Post-lockdown anxiety sees Vietnamese refuse to venture out

By Minh Trang   October 8, 2021 | 08:48 am GMT+7
Many Saigonese have posted photos of themselves venturing out after the city lifted its coronavirus lockdown. But Anh is not one of them.

"I will stay home for at least two more week," said Vu Tuan Anh, a freelance painter in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 5 who has been fully vaccinated.

One of his acquaintances had died of Covid, while three relatives were infected.

The city’s reopening has left him with mixed feelings. He is thrilled to see the southern metro recover from the persistent outbreak, but he is also frightened because the risk of infection remains.

After the lockdown relaxation, the 32-year-old has not visited his parents-in-law, a mere 15-minute drive away, to see his wife. She has stayed with her parents to take care of them since the beginning of the recent lockdown.

Anh shares the same concern with many people across the country. As many localities have lifted their coronavirus restrictions and allowed people to go out, many are rattled by the ongoing pandemic and have decided to keep hunkering down.

Saigonese venture out after HCMC eased its coronavirus lockdown, Oct 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Saigonese venture out after HCMC eased its coronavirus lockdown, Oct 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

In Hanoi, where the social distancing campaign was relaxed, Tran Ngoc Hien is still trying to adapt to "the new normal."

On the evening of Sept. 21, the 25-year-old excitedly spent more than 30 minutes selecting an outfit to return to her workplace the following day.

But all excitement vanished the next morning when she saw the crowded elevator.

"They also talked, even if there is a note telling them not to talk in the elevator," Hien recalled.

She also felt annoyed when someone accidentally touched her in public, so she has opted to stay home and thought about asking her employers to allow her to continue working remotely.

According to Nguyen Cao Minh, a psychology expert from Hanoi University of Education, Anh and Hien’s cases are not rare amid the pandemic.

A survey carried out by Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in April revealed most people worry about coronavirus infection risks. A total 21 percent worry for themselves at a moderate level and 27 percent for their family members at moderate and high levels.

Sometimes, fears of venturing out are just "a tip of an iceberg," according to Minh.

From a mental health perspective, people refusing outdoor activities can be a manifestation of a number of problems such as anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobia (fear of specific things), and social phobia.

The above issues have one thing in common: excessive anxiety and fear. But anxiety, GAD, and phobia are fears of a specific thing, which is the Covid-19 pandemic at the moment; while people experiencing social phobia are scared of communicating in social situations.

"Covid-19 puts everyone under stress. The higher the level of stress, the easier it is to start or worsen mental problems," Minh said.

The above survey showed that more than 16 percent of participants rated their happiness index at a poor level. Many therapy services in Hanoi have recorded a spike in the number of visitors recently.

A facility in Hanoi's Ba Dinh District said from the beginning of 2021 until now, the number of visitors has tripled.

Another therapy service in Thanh Xuan District revealed that in June 2021 alone, the number of visitors doubled year-on-year, with 60 percent showing signs of mental instability.

Fears over the pandemic are varied.

Psychology expert Nguyen Do Hong Nhung from Thai Nguyen University said that some patients are worried about the risks of reinfection or social stigma. Other patients fear they may become a source of infection.

In Ho Chi Minh City’ Binh Tan District, Do Thanh Long had recovered from the disease last month, but still decided to keep his distance from the community by quitting his job at a local factory and staying home to help his parents sell goods.

Some people who were not hit financially by the recent lockdown are not ready to give up staying home. This can be seen among workers whose salaries were not affected by the pandemic.

"Working from home means no makeup, no two hours of commuting a day," said 29-year-old Nguyen Thuy Linh from HCMC’s Nha Be District.

Regardless of the cause, not wanting to go out after lockdown relaxation can affect individuals and those around them.

Anh advised his wife not to return to work because many people at her office had not been fully vaccinated, leading to quarrels between the two.

Employees who still want to work remotely like Hien and Linh can make their teammates feel less motivated, affecting team results.

To put people at ease in the post-lockdown era, Nhung recommended agencies and organizations form a new code of conduct requiring people not to discriminate against recovered Covid-19 patients, allowing flexible working methods (in-person, online), supporting staff if they are in a Covid hotspot or undergoing testing and treatment.

To deal with personal anxiety, Minh said each person needs to find the causes of their issues. If they are afraid of infection, they should refrain from reading fake news or rumors on social media, and consider seeking professional support.

If they have a social phobia, they should return to normalcy slowly, Minh said.

That is also the lesson that Nguyen Phan Binh from HCMC’s District 1 has learned. When he discovered he was infected by the virus in August, he was "afraid of infecting his family, not having proper medical care, and dying."

Seeing his family and friends eager to help, Binh reassured himself and understood that fear did not help him. After eight days of fever, he gradually recovered.

When Saigon reopened, Binh's only emotion was excitement. As a recovered patient, he knew he would be safe. He is not afraid of discrimination, viewing gossip as the lack of knowledge and information.

Most importantly, going out means having job opportunities, especially since he works in the field of accommodation and photography.

"Stability and optimism account for more than 50 percent of this battle," Binh concluded.

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