Saigon’s midnight run: residents form long queues to buy masks

By Diep Phan   February 16, 2020 | 05:16 am PT
Saigon’s midnight run: residents form long queues to buy masks
Hundreds of people line up to buy masks. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.
At 3 a.m. Sunday, Tuan's family of four took a taxi from District 8 to District 10 to buy medical masks. 

They had to join a queue behind scores of people who had arrived even earlier. 

"Two days ago, when passing by this store, I saw a notice that they would sell 1,000 boxes of medical masks and dry hand sanitizers at 7:30 a.m. today, so I went home and informed the family. Fortunately, we came in early enough, otherwise, we would have to go back empty handed." 

The shop before which the queues were forming stands on To Hien Thanh in District 10. It is a pharmaceutical medical equipment store, part of Ho Chi Minh Trade Center. 

The store had announced that on Sunday morning, they would sell 1,000 boxes of 3-layered medical masks and dry hand sanitizers. Each customer can buy two boxes of medical masks for VND37,500 ($1.60) per box of 50 pieces, and a bottle of 100 ml hand sanitizer for VND40,000 ($1.70). 

It was nearly 5 a.m. when 56-year-old Nguyen Thi Mai, a resident of District 12, came to join the queue, only to realize that the security staff had closed the gate and there were hundreds of people standing inside. 

"I saw my friend sharing on Facebook that they would sell face masks from 7:30 a.m. today, so planned to come here at 4:30. But it turns out I am late", Mai said. 

At 6:30 a.m., the line from the gate of the company along To Hien Thanh Street stretched several hundred meters and the ward’s police had to show to regulate traffic.  A woman standing in line, who did not want to be named, said that even though so many people had arrived earlier than her, as early as 2 a.m., she still hoped to she would be able to get close to the store and gate and buy some masks and hand sanitizers. 

"Last week, my family could not buy medical masks and had to use cloth masks as alternatives. I know that medical masks could only be used once, but I still washed and dried them to keep some spare, since it's not sure how long the epidemic will last," she said, anxiety writ large on her face. 

Suong (middle) and her niece manage to buy two boxes of masks and two hand sanitizers. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan,

Suong (middle) and her niece manage to buy two boxes of masks and two hand sanitizers. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan,

Holding two boxes of medical masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer, Linh, a 56-year-old resident of Tan Phu District, quite some distance away from District 10, came out with a smiling face. 

Living and taking care of her grandchildren far away from the store, she slept in a relative’s house near To Hien Thanh Street and joined the queue at 3 a.m. 

"I know medical masks are scarce and the epidemic has not shown any signs of abating, so I am worried. If people come too late and get no queue number, the company can't be blamed," Linh said, eager to get back and take care of her grandchildren. 

Minh, 73, reached the company's gate at 7.30 a.m., having driven a motorbike for nearly two hours from Long Thanh District in Dong Nai Province to get the store in time. 

"I did not know the company had announced that people had to come early to pick up a queue number. They just said they were going sell at 7.30 a.m.," he exclaimed in anger and disappointment, showing a photograph of the sale notice on his phone. 

At 8 a.m., just 30 minutes after the store’s opening, the store’s staff used speakers to announce that medical masks were sold out, asking those who had not been issued numbers to return home and wait for the next sale.

Vietnam has so far recorded 16 cases of infection, of whom seven have been discharged from hospitals.

As of Sunday morning the global death toll has climbed to nearly 1,700, including five outside mainland China.

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