‘New normal’ in HCMC's low-risk Covid areas

By Hoang Ha   October 3, 2021 | 08:29 pm PT
At 5 p.m. last Monday, Marvin Contapay put on running shoes and ran around his neighborhood after nearly four months stuck inside his apartment.

"Today is my first day doing outdoor exercise," said the Filipino English teacher, a resident of Ho Chi Minh's District 7. "It's nice to see signs of normal life returning."

HCMC ended the lockdown on September 30, allowing many businesses to reopen and people to go out without travel permits.

Earlier, the city eased the restrictions in low-risk Covid districts of 7, Can Gio and Cu Chi. After the Covid-19 outbreak was put under control in the districts, the city allowed residents to go grocery shopping once a week at both supermarkets and traditional markets on Sept. 16.

Those who have been fully vaccinated in Tan Phu and Tan Phong wards were allowed to walk, exercise, and do outdoor sports at two parks and five tennis courts.

Children playing at park in District 7 on September 28. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Phuc

Children play in at park in District 7 on Sept. 28, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Phuc

"Life during the pandemic is not easy, especially for foreigners living in foreign lands," said Contapay, who has been in Vietnam since 2018.

During social distancing, he faced an economic crunch after his English Center temporarily closed. He also struggled with ordering food online while his mental health went down the hill after staying home too long. Over the past several months, Contapay has only gone out a few times to go to the supermarket and get vaccinated.

"I am grateful that life is slowly returning to normal. At least now I can go outside to breathe in some fresh air," he said.

Truong Thien Ngoc, a 33-year-old resident in Tan Phu ward, said the past few days have been "like a dream" to her.

"On Sept. 19, my family ordered online food. But there were only a few places open. I was tired of eating only homeade meals. So when I ate restaurant food, it tasted amazing," he said.

Since Tan Phu Ward allows people to go out to exercise, every day Ngoc took his children to the park 100 meters away from home to ride their bicycles and rollerblade.

"My children have been to the park twice a day over the past two days."

Truong Thien Ngocs children enjoy outdoor activities. Photo courtesy of Ngoc

Truong Thien Ngoc's children enjoy outdoor activities. Photo courtesy of Ngoc

Ngoc said the pace of life has not returned to the same pre-pandemic level, but "at least the atmosphere is more lively than before."

"During social distancing, it was very quiet here with not a single person on the street," he said, adding he feels delighted when hearing the laughter and conversations of passerbys at the park.

Tran Phuc, a bank employee, was happy he was allowed to come back to the office after three months working from home.

"On my first day back at the office, I felt excited and a little nervous as if I had just been hired again," the 28-year-old man said.

District 7 also allowed people in low-risk Covid areas to buy essential goods through distribution channels at nine supermarkets and 154 convenience stores starting Sept. 16.

But Le Thi Lien, 29, a Binh Thuan Ward resident, was afraid to venture out at first. But after she decided to make her first trip to the supermarket on Sept. 23, she said it felt "very special" when pushing a heavy cart around and smelling fresh food being made.

According to Standing Deputy Secretary of District 7 People's Committee Tran Chi Dung, after 10 days of easing some regulations, the number of new infections in the locality did not increase.

The committee added that in the first week, the locality distributed more than 41,500 shopping vouchers to people in low-risk Covid areas, of which more than 12,300 people went to the market, a ratio of nearly 30 percent. It is expected that sports activities would be expanded to 10 wards from Oct. 1 to include stadiums, indoor sports clubs and parks.

In addition to easing social distancing, Can Gio District has been assigned the task of piloting the opening of tourism.

At 9 a.m. on Sept. 19, Tuyet Loan in Can Gio's Ly Nhon Commune welcomed the first group of guests back to Vam Sat eco-tourism area, operated as part of Can Gio bio-reserve.

"I was very emotional when seeing the tourism scene here being revived," she said, adding she was delighted to greet guests on the pilot tour and guid everyone around.

"I was busy and tired on the first day back to work since we were only a few employees. But it still makes me happy."

Tuyet Loan in Vam Sat eco-tourism area in May 2021. Photo courtesy of Loan

Tuyet Loan in Vam Sat eco-tourism area, Can Gio District, in May 2021. Photo courtesy of Loan

Due to the Covid outbreak, Vam Sat eco-tourism area has been closed since May 28, right in the peak tourism season. Since tours were suspended, Loan's income was severely affected.

From Sept. 19, tours to Can Gio have been resumed, initially for medical teams, and forces participating in the frontline of epidemic prevention. A few days before Vam Sat opened, Loan and her colleagues cleaned tables and chairs and swept leaves around the premises to welcome guests back.

As of Sept. 28, Vam Sat eco-zone has welcomed three pilot groups, and is expected to continue to welcome many closed groups after Sept. 30.

Loan's joy of going back to work is somewhat similar to the wish of English teacher Marvin Contapay.

"Right now, what I'm most concerned about is when the English center would reopen," he said. "I think we often don't appreciate what we have until it's gone."

At the moment, the foreign teacher wants to "live every moment to the fullest" since "what's happened in the last four months has made me appreciate life so much more."

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