Rattled workers leave Covid hotspots for home

By Hong Chieu   July 30, 2021 | 07:35 pm GMT+7
Trinh put her clothes and a negative test result for the coronavirus into her backpack and quickly left southern Binh Duong Province on her motorbike.

Leaving the place where she had been living and working for three years, Trinh and another nine friends from central Thanh Hoa Province were traveling on five motorbikes, their luggage including clothes, bread, and water. They left Binh Duong's Thuan An Town on July 25, only hours after deciding to flee.

"I am returning to my hometown - I will come back when the pandemic is over," Trinh told her landlord.

Six hours prior, she was lying in her room, surfing the internet to find a way to get home to Thanh Hoa. The neighborhood was deserted, as workers had left for their hometowns, while others were in quarantine. Trinh was yearning to be with her family, but that was next to impossible since all transportation was halt due to the raging pandemic.

Having no job after the company was shut due to several Covid patients, Trinh had hunkered down for 20 days. The town where she lives has recorded more than 200 cases, while Binh Duong has logged 12,604 cases and undergone semi-lockdown. Trinh had ventured out only for food, once every three days.

A family rests near Lang Co checkpoint in Thua Thien Hua.

A family rests near Lang Co checkpoint in Thua Thien Hue. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

"Who wants to travel from Binh Duong to Thanh Hoa, let's go together by motorbike," she read on Facebook, and quickly decided to join.

Her hometown is in central Thanh Hoa Province, where people grow rice for a livelihood. Three years ago, she sent her son to her parents, and left her home for a job at a textile factory in Binh Duong. Earning around VND8 million ($349) per month, she sent half to her family.

Thanh Hoa has organized trips for its residents living in Saigon to come home, and prioritized the old, the poor, pregnant mothers, and children. Trinh was not on the list.

She decided to come home on her own, saying she would make a health declaration and accept centralized quarantine.

"If I accidentally spread the virus, I could not live in the village."

Before departure, she went to Thuan An Hospital and paid VND400,000 for a quick Covid test, which is required to pass numerous checkpoints along the 1,500-kilometer route.

With VND1.1 million, she packed come clothes, bought some bread, water, texted her landlord, and left.

"It is like an escape," Trinh said.

Ten of them traveled on National Road 1A to Thanh Hoa Province. At every checkpoint, they had to show their negative test results, submit health declaration forms and commit to driving straight home.

They took turns to drive and only had bread for days. At night, they lay on plastic mats on the sidewalks to sleep.

"I’m from a Covid hotspot, so I don’t dare rent a room," Trinh said. On the first night, she could not help crying for herself. For more than 30 years since she was born, regardless of ups and downs, she has never slept on the street.

The group slept and woke up early, washing their faces with bottled water, having bread for breakfast before leaving.

Nghe An residents coming from southern provinces make health declaration in Vinh Town, July 27, 2021.

Nghe An residents coming from southern provinces submit health declarations in Vinh Town, July 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Hung Tien.

On the national road, groups of motorbikes kept heading to the north, home to many workers living in southern provinces. They could not see each other's faces, and did not speak a single word. All they did was silently follow the other motorbikes.

On the afternoon of July 27, Trinh's group stopped at Lang Co checkpoint of central Thua Thien Hue Province. Hundreds of motorbikes were gathered on Hai Van Pass, with people resting on the street while local police distributed water and food.

They were told to wait for more people to come, then the police would lead them along the way.

Similar to Trinh, Binh and his wife from central Nghe An Province also made their way to their hometown from Binh Duong.

Arriving in Nghe An's Vinh Town on July 27, they said: "We feel like we are alive."

Having their own house, the couple sent their children to Binh's parents and has quarantined at home.

Their first meal at home included some boiled pork and vegetables from relatives, who cooked and put the food in front of Binh's house. When they left, Binh took the food, went inside and locked the door.

That night, after days traveling on the road, he went to bed at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, Trinh and her friends were still on the road, sleeping somewhere on the street and dreaming of home.

Trinh's group travels at night as police lead them along the way. Video by Nguyen Trinh.

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