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Lockdown takes mental toll on Saigonese

By Dang Khoa, Long Nguyen   July 27, 2021 | 06:18 pm PT
Besides fears of Covid infection and difficulty buying groceries and food, people living in locked-down areas in HCMC also feel besieged not knowing when the barricades will go.

It was a Saturday night when Nguyen Thanh Hung stayed up late and stepped out of his house in an alley in Saigon's District 11.

A friend of his came and placed food at the mouth of the alley, which was barricaded after a Covid-19 patient had been found there the previous week.

Hung, waving to his friend but saying nothing, sprayed alcohol on the food packs and took them inside. He sprayed alcohol all over his body before entering.

He said: "We cannot go shopping, and so a friend of my wife helps us with food. I am the only member of the family to go out these days, we are all scared that the coronavirus is everywhere."

The alley has been locked down for almost a month because Covid patients were repeatedly found in the area.

"My children asked when the barricades will be removed and they can go out every day, but I have no answer for them."

The 40-year-old and his family are among hundreds of thousands of people in Saigon who have been locked down and facing a host of difficulties as their city grapples with a stubborn Covid-19 outbreak that began in late April. As of Wednesday morning, the southern metro has recorded 74,855 cases in the current outbreak.

According to the HCMC Center for Disease Control, over 3,000 areas are locked down. It is estimated 2,931 cases are detected every day on average, mostly in these areas, city's chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong said.

Besides the obvious economic problems for many, fear of the spreading virus has also taken a toll.

A locked-down area in Thu Duc City, May 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

A locked-down area in Thu Duc City, May 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Hung said he is living in panic mode and constantly sprays disinfectants inside his home and on grocery bags.

"My pregnant wife and daughters are prohibited from going out. Every time I go out into the alley, I take a shower before going close to them."

Vu Bao Tram, whose neighborhood in District 4 has been isolated since June 25, said she is frightened of becoming infected since so many infected people are asymptomatic.

"It feels like wearing a mask and washing my hands regularly still does not seem to be enough."

She admitted she is a bit paranoid sometimes and sprays an alcohol-based disinfectant and wipes everything in the house.

During the month-long lockdown people in her area were initially worried about food, "but later the fear of coronavirus infection emerged and haunts us all."

Living in locked-down areas, many people cannot go out to buy groceries and food, so they have to rely on friends or delivery services.

Residing in an isolated residential building in District 7, Ho Trong Tao and his friends last week ordered groceries from a local supermarket, which took them up to five days to receive because many supermarkets and e-commerce platforms have been overwhelmed with online orders.

"Three of us tried now eat less than we used to because we know we completely depend on other people when it comes to food," Tao said, adding last week they had to eat instant noodles with eggs given by their neighbor in two days.

With new Covid patients being found steadily in locked-down areas, people living there have been isolated for weeks or even months, and have no idea when the barricades and tape outside will be removed.

Tram said the worst part is the uncertainty since she does not how long the crisis will last, or how bad things might get.

When local authorities came to block off her residential area, they did it almost without any notice, and so "I was locked up without knowing any information on what had happened in her neighborhood."

"When I asked local guards when the barricades will be removed, they did know because there are still Covid cases in the area. This puts heavy psychological pressure on everyone in the neighborhood."

A sign calling on people to take preventive measures against Covid-19 is lit up at a corner of the Nguyen Hue pedestrian street in District 1, July 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.

A sign calling on people to take preventive measures against Covid-19 is lit up at a corner of the Nguyen Hue pedestrian street in District 1, July 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.

Hang in there

Worried about their safety and food, most people in locked-down areas rely on the support of their friends and try to stay positive as best they can.

Nguyen Thuy Nhi of Go Vap whose building has been cordoned off for more than three weeks, cannot order groceries online due to the surging demand.

She spoke about her problems on a Facebook group of people offering help to others amid the lockdown, and received great support.

She said: "I had never thought strangers on the Internet would give me rice, meat or even medicines for free. This week delivery services are working well, so I did not seek their help."

In the last few weeks there have been many Facebook groups with thousands of members looking for people in need in Saigon to help and make sure they can survive the lockdown relatively unscathed.

In a group called ‘Giup Nhau Mua Dich’ (Helping Others Amid Pandemic), people share their stories and seek financial support from the online community.

"I sent VND300,000 ($13) to a woman who ran out of food and money in Thu Duc City after reading how miserable she was in the Facebook group," Hung said.

Caring for others is also what Tram has been doing to stay positive.

"Every morning when I wake up I tell myself that I am lucky and I must hang in there because there are poor and sick people out there, and many volunteers and healthcare workers grapple with the pandemic.

"I am just hunkering down, so I must be strong."

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