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People stranded in Saigon amid Covid nightmare

By Long Nguyen   July 4, 2021 | 07:35 pm PT
Many visitors to Saigon are staying back rather than return home for fear they might take the coronavirus infection back.

On the first Saturday evening of July Nguyen Truong Thinh learned that a person later found to have Covid-19 had been to a petrol station in District 10 he had visited a few days ago.

He said: "I am always careful, but I am not surprised to know that I might have come into close contact with a patient. The virus is now everywhere."

The 28-year-old Hanoian, who arrived in Saigon in late May and is now afraid to travel back since he worries he might contract the infection or accidentally take the virus home, hopes to return when the pandemic is under control.

"When I came here, I thought I would see a lot of friends. But the new outbreak has derailed all my plans."

Thinh is among many people from other provinces who are stuck in Saigon as the city struggles with its worst Covid outbreak and has been placing hundreds of places under lockdown to contain the virus.

Saigonese wait to have Covid-19 tests in Saigons Binh Tan District, June 22, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Saigonese wait to have Covid-19 tests in Saigon's Binh Tan District, June 22, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Many others worry like Thinh that they might get infected and transmit it at home, and have chosen to stay back in Saigon until the situation improves.

Le Thanh Huong, who traveled from the southern province of Tien Giang to Saigon to attend a relative’s funeral in early June, had no idea her trip would last more than a month.

"There are thousands of Covid cases in Ho Chi Minh City. I am not sure whether I am safe. How can I dare return to Tien Giang without worrying I might carry that virus?"

For the last month she has stayed in her sister's house in Binh Tan, the worst-hit district in the new outbreak that started on April 27.

As of Monday HCMC is the worst hit locality with 6,209 cases.

"I will wait until the outbreak is under control so that I will have confidence to travel back to my hometown."

Many people have also stayed back in the city because of the fear they might face the stigma of coming from a Covid hotspot.

Le Thu Anh, a student at the HCMC University of Technology, has not visited home in the central Da Nang City during the summer break after her parents warned her about malicious talk by neighbors.

"They told me I will not be welcome because of people's fears I could be carrying the virus," she said. She has tried to find a job to pay her bills since "staying at home all day has caused the electricity bill to skyrocket."

In the last few weeks many localities around the country have required people returning from Saigon to isolate themselves and test for Covid.

Many people have been stranded since their neighborhoods have been placed under lockdown.

In District 10, Nguyen Thi Hoa, a domestic helper from neighboring Long An Province, could not return to her hometown to attend her father's death anniversary in late June.

The alley where she lives has been cordoned off after a person there tested positive for Covid.

"The alley is locked down and even going out to get food is impossible; how can I dream of going to Long An?" she said.

According to the HCMC Center of Disease Control, 636 locations have been locked down as of July 1. Besides, 105 markets have been closed and 65 supermarkets and convenience stores were ordered shut after Covid patients were found to have visited them.

Authorities have placed 13,429 people in quarantine and isolated 30,426 others at home.

"I have tested negative once, but nothing is certain with this Delta variant," Hoa said.

Go Vap District residents gather at Hanh Thong Tay Kindergarten in Ward 11, a Covid-19 vaccination station operated by city health authorities, June, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Go Vap District residents gather at Hanh Thong Tay Kindergarten in Ward 11, a Covid-19 vaccination station operated by city health authorities, June, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Keep your chin up

Many people stuck in Saigon try to stay positive by talking to their families.

Thinh calls home and talks to his family members every day to reassure them.

"My mom checks the list of locked-down locations in Saigon daily to see if any of them is near my place. She is worried."

Anh, Huong and Hoa too said their families are anxious about the situation in Saigon and fearful they could become the next patients.

Anh said: "My parents do not allow me to go out and hunt for a job because they are worried I would get infected. But I just cannot stay at home all day long." She plans to start working at a convenience store from mid-July.

But all of them scrupulously comply with Covid preventive measures and encourage others to do the same.

Thinh said: "I bought some com tam (broken rice) and gave it to homeless people at the weekend. I hope the city and its residents get well soon."

The city recorded 65 cases every day between June 19 and 30 with their sources of transmission unknown, including around 35 who were only diagnosed while visiting hospitals with other health problems.

Monday marks the 35th day of social distancing.

"The evolution of the epidemic is still unpredictable," Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son warned last Friday.

Thinh has started thinking about returning to Hanoi on account of his business though he will have to avoid public places and crowds for two weeks.

"If I stay I face the risk of infection, if I return to Hanoi too I face a risk at the airport and on the airplane. It is such a dilemma."

He is looking for a cheap place to isolate himself for two weeks in Hanoi, avoiding contact with his family. He plans to take a Covid test before buying a ticket home.

"If it is not for the business, I would stay in Saigon until this outbreak is contained."

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