No revelry as overseas Vietnamese usher in 2021

By Long Nguyen   December 31, 2020 | 04:00 am PT
Across continents, overseas Vietnamese have canceled travel and party plans for the New Year holiday, as they lie low in Covid-19 times.

Le Trong Anh, IT student in Stockholm, was all excited about experiencing New Year’s Eve in Sweden for the first time. He planned to travel up north to Lapland to enjoy the festive season with some Vietnamese friends on the campus.

However, since the country has placed a limit on attendance at public gatherings following a surge in Covid-19 cases, the 23-year-old Vietnamese student has seen his plans shattered.

"When the clock strikes twelve this New Year’s Eve, I will be in the campus and will have a virtual celebration with my friends," he said, adding they are all scared of the novel coronavirus in the winter, so "gathering and drinking are a taboo."

On December 30, Sweden said it had registered 8,846 new coronavirus cases and 243 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began, although the health agency also said statistics over the Christmas period have been affected by less testing and delays in reporting deaths.

People wearing protective face masks arrange decorations for New Year 2021 near Cairos Tahrir Square, Egypt, December 17, 2020. Photo by Reuters.

People wearing protective face masks arrange decorations for New Year 2021 near Cairo's Tahrir Square, Egypt, December 17, 2020. Photo by Reuters.

Anh and his friends are among a myriad of Vietnamese people worldwide who will ring in 2021 without the usual parties and reunions, as the Covid19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across continents.

Greeting and meetings have given to small celebrations and video calls among loved ones.

In London, Nguyen Hai An, a newly-wedded teacher at a local school, canceled a trip to her husband’s hometown in Peterborough and has decided to have a Skype call with her friends at midnight December 31.

"Last year, we went to a friend’s house and had a big party, but this year, it is sad that we have no gathering," said An, who added that all of her future plans are uncertain at this point.

In London, millions are living under tier four rules, which means that non-essential shops, beauty salons, and hairdressers must close, and people are limited to meeting in a public outdoor place with their household members or one other person.

For An, even a party with her colleagues on January 4, when they return to work is uncertain. "Prospects for a return to normality in January are not high."

In the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., Le Trung, 21-year-old hospitality student, has given up on the planned trip to New York to watch the dropping of the glittering crystal ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Ushering in the New Year with the crystal ball drop has been a tradition for decades, watched by millions worldwide and thousands in person at the venue, but this year, the ceremony will go online as surrounding streets will be completely closed off to the public. Only invited essential workers and their families will watch the celebrity performances and ball drop in person.

"It will not be a perfect New Year’s Eve for my girlfriend without going to Times Square and watching the ball drop, but health matters first," he said.

In the U.S., where more than 336,000 people have died of Covid-19, many cities are changing plans for the New Year, with the cancelation of in-person events.

"The safest way to celebrate the New Year is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you or virtually with friends and family. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others," the CDC has advised Americans.

The Times Square ball is tested out for the media ahead of the New Years celebration in Times Square, New York. Photo by Reuters.

The Times Square ball is tested out for the media ahead of the New Year's celebration in Times Square, New York. Photo by Reuters.

Added worry

This New Year’s Eve will be shadowed darker by worries about the new coronavirus variant that has been spreading in the U.K. and some other countries.

In Chiba, Japan’s Chiba Prefecture capital city, Nguyen Thanh Tu, 31-year-old worker at a local firm, said that she has tried to stay away from all public spaces since before Christmas, especially after the country detected its first cases of the new strain of the coronavirus.

"The new variant is more contagious, I do not want to get infected because no one will take care of me, all friends are busy with their work," said Tu, who added that she will not take a single step outside in the holiday.

Tu added that she had bought the traditional fukubukuro (lucky bags) in early December to avoid crowds at stores on the first day of the New Year.

"Normally, people buy these lucky bags in January, but it will be scary to venture out and buy them among huge crowds when the new virus variant could be lingering in the air."

The new coronavirus variant, called B117, which is more transmissible than the original virus, has made many fearful about what happens next.

The variant emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as the U.S., Canada, Jordan and Japan. The new strain has prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain.

Yearning for home

Apart from the muted celebrations, many Vietnamese around the world will ring in the New Year with a burning desire to return and reunite with their families.

In the U.S., Nguyen Thanh Toan and many of his Vietnamese friends in California are waiting for information about repatriation flights in January 2021.

"Staying here with the surging pandemic is dangerous and worrying, so we are eager to get back to our families in Vietnam."

Thousands of Vietnamese have been repatriated from some of the world’s most severe coronavirus hotspots, including the U.S., India, the U.K. and South Korea.

But there is no official plan revealed for repatriation flights in 2021, so there is no choice but to wait for many Vietnamese living abroad.

"I have been waiting for months to go home, but the number of registrations is too high, so I must keep waiting, no one wants to celebrate a new year far from home," said Vu Thuy Ly, who is in her fifth month of pregnancy in Liverpool, U.K.

Echoing Ly, Anh said the prospect of celebrating the new year without his family and friends makes him very sad. He is hoping that after a difficult year, a glimmer of hope will reach everyone.

"I just saw off a friend going home for the holiday at the airport. When I returned, the bus driver gave me a candy and said: ‘Happy New Year.’"

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