Saigonese turn lax, disdain pandemic precautions

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenJune 22, 2021 | 05:28 pm PT
HCMC is dealing with a Covid-19 nightmare, but many of its residents seem to have dropped their guard and are not complying with preventive measures.

On Sunday afternoon, a few hours after Saigon intensified its Covid battle by shutting down street markets and banning gatherings of more than 10 people, people could be seen jogging on the sidewalks on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street outside the Reunification Palace.

Some pulled their masks down to breathe and talked freely while walking.

"Staying at home all day bores me, so I ventured out to get some air," Nguyen Thanh Truc, 34, a housewife, said while jogging with her husband, who held his mask in his hand.

In the last few weeks, amid the city’s worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic, people seem to have turned lax, ignoring social distancing rules.

Instead of an all-out approach to curb the spread of the virus, compliance with preventive protocols is mixed as people exercise, socialize and seek to earn a living.

People of all ages can be seen working out in parks like Tao Dan in District 1, some without even masks as if their city had gotten rid of the pandemic.

"Since staying home 24 hours a day is depressing, going out even just for a brief moment helps me feel less stressed physically and mentally," Tran Quoc Manh said, claiming he runs at a slower pace than normal so that he would not breathe heavily.

With the city shutting down gyms on May 7 and cordoning off workout equipment in public parks, some people, including seniors, who are considered more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, exercise around their apartments or in parks.

Tran Van Tam, 62, said: "I’ve switched to doing some light stretches in the big yard in front my apartment building. It is no big deal, no Covid patients live near my building." He added that many others in his apartment in District 7 also do the same.

Others, especially young people, think it is okay to hit the streets. They said there is no big threat since they wear masks and sanitize their hands regularly.

While some people are feeling quarantine fatigue and so go outside, vendors at street markets have to earn a living and cannot afford to stay at home.

Though the city people's committee decided to shut down street markets on Saturday, many vendors in Thu Duc City still took a chance and opened their shops on Sunday before forced chased away by inspectors.

Several street markets in Binh Tan District, the city’s worst-hit area, continue to function.

Nguyen Thi Hai Trieu, the owner of a shop selling homeware, said: " I cannot earn a living and feed my family if my shop is closed. It is not that I am ignoring the preventive measures, but other vendors and I don’t have the luxury of working from home like office workers."

Admitting that she is scared of getting infected, the 55-year-old said she keeps her mask on at all times and warns her customers to maintain a safe distance. She is now stressed out over how to pay her monthly rent and the uncertain future.

Nguyen Trong Hoang, a delivery man in District 10, said he cannot maintain a distance from colleagues while waiting to pick up customers' orders at restaurants.

"Many eateries are packed with delivery workers, I know it is dangerous, but how am I supposed to live without an income?"

Saigonese exercise on a street.

Saigonese exercise on a street ignoring the social distancing campaign. Photo by VnExpress/Vu Tuan.

Almost three weeks after Saigon began a semi-lockdown, the number of daily new Covid cases is still high, worrying many people and authorities.

The city has announced tougher pandemic prevention measures to cope with rising infections.

From Sunday it has banned gatherings of more than 10 people in one place and more than three outside of workplaces, schools and hospitals, and requires people to keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters in public. People are told to stay at home and only go out to buy food, seek emergency medical services or work in factories.

Many people, rattled by the resurgent pandemic, support the city’s intensification of the Covid battle.

"Many people have become lax and ignore preventive measures, and authorities should be stricter and indicate to them this city is in a battle," Le Trong Hoang, a white-collar worker who has worked from home since late May, said.

Concurring with him, Nguyen My Le, a teacher who had her first Covid vaccine on Monday, said people should take one step back and sacrifice their hobbies to contain the spreading virus.

As of Wednesday morning HCMC was the second worst-hit locality in the current wave that began on April 27, with 1,973 patients.

The city plans to complete mass immunization by June 27, giving shots to 200,000 people a day.

"This is by far the most complicated, unpredictable battle against the pandemic that HCMC has faced since the infections are caused by variants of the coronavirus that are stronger and more transmissible than previous ones, and have a more adverse impact on public health and social welfare," Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh said.

Yet, some people think they do not need to give up their workout routines and livelihoods even temporarily.

"We have been in this pandemic for a year, and I think we must learn to co-exist with it," Truc said, adding she would wear two layers of masks while jogging from the following day.

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