Urbanites prepare for post-social distancing era

By Long Nguyen   April 21, 2020 | 05:44 pm PT
Residents and business owners in Hanoi and HCMC prepare for a new normal, hoping the semi-lockdown would end with more positive Covid-19 news.

Last weekend, Nguyen Thi Hoa told her housekeeper, who had returned to Saigon's Cu Chi District, to prepare for work.

Hoa, 41, knew she would struggle to take care of her children if she had to return to her office instead of working from home.

"If the social distancing campaign ends this week, I should be prepared," Hoa said, adding she would book an appointment with her hairdresser as soon as possible.

After three weeks, Hoa and many others in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are counting the days to get back on track as both metropolises have proposed the government not extend the social distancing campaign set to end April 22.

The Prime Minister stated Vietnam would ease social distancing and implement adequate controls to contain Covid-19.

Previously, the 15-day nationwide social distancing campaign, launched April 1, asked people to stay at home and only go out when truly necessary. Factories had to maintain safe distances, disinfect premises and ensure employees wear masks to prevent infection. The campaign was extended for a week until April 22 in Hanoi, HCMC, and 10 other localities deemed to be at "high risk" of Covid-19.

Now, urbanites and migrant workers are bracing themselves for a normal life after the semi-lockdown.

In the last few days, many streets have witnessed an increasing number of commuters as a myriad of citizens who could not stand staying home ventured out.

Commuters on a street in HCMC on April 13, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh.

Commuters on a street in HCMC on April 13, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh.

Many are stuck on Saigon's Cong Hoa, Au Co, and Duong Ba Trac streets each day, especially during rush hour. In Hanoi, a minor accident on April 20 caused a massive traffic jam along four kilometers of Phung Hung Street in Ha Dong District.

After three weeks of living behind closed doors, many residents could not wait to return to work.

According to Nguyen Quynh Nhi in HCMC, her company in District 1 hired people to clean and sanitize the office on Monday, telling staff to be ready to return to work soon.

"I am relieved to be back at the office after more than a month working from home. We plan to have a small party to celebrate," Nhi said.

For migrant workers and street vendors who had lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and travel restrictions, returning to normalcy means more income.

On Monday, Nguyen Van Son filled up his motorbike, leaving his hometown in Long Thanh District of southern province Dong Nai.

"I cannot stay home anymore and need to provide for my family," he said, adding he would return to his wood workshop in Saigon’s Binh Thanh District.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thu Thao, 45, also plans to take a bus from her home in northern Tien Giang Province to HCMC right after the semi-lockdown is lifted to continue her job as a housekeeper in District 7.

"I have not earned anything since March, even though I have three mouths to feed," she said.

Business owners are also waiting to resume operations.

In Hanoi, on Tuesday, one day before authorities take a final decision on the social distancing campaign, many restaurants and coffee shops were waiting to open.

Traditional Pho Thin restaurant stated it has been looking forward to resuming business after closing for the most prolonged period of time in its history.

"My staff have been jobless for over a month, and customers miss our pho," said owner Bui Chi Thanh.

Nguyen Thu Quynh, a spa owner, plans to spend one day cleaning equipment and welcoming back her staff, who had left Hanoi for their hometowns in March.

"I will need only one day to prepare if authorities allow me to open again," she said, adding she expects at least two months before her spa on Hanoi's Quan Su Street could return to normal, "but it is still better then earning nothing."

The new normal

"Seeing the crowds return to the streets makes me nervous, I am used to quiet streets during the last several weeks," said Tran Thanh Thao, a white-collar worker in Saigon's District 1, after going shopping Monday. She added many of her friends also feel conflicted about the social distancing period coming to an end.

Huynh Phuong Tuan, a headhunter, concurs: "Of course we want to go back to normal. But it is difficult to make the switch after getting used to life under semi-lockdown."

Getting used to the traquility outside his apartment in Saigon’s District 4, Tuan somehow feels bad thinking about joining the sea of urban commuters each morning.

People trade at Hanois Long Bien market April 16, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.

People ignore social distancing rules at Hanoi's Long Bien Market on Arpil 16, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.

In HCMC, Nguyen Thanh Danh, 28, has planned to go to BBQ and hotpot restaurants with his colleagues and friends as soon as possible.

"To many people to meet and too many things to eat out there right after this (social distancing period) ends."

According to Nguyen Thanh Tuan, a university student in Saigon's District 10, who has not seen any friends since March, he is thrilled to "get exit loneliness."

However, Tuan and Danh both know the Covid-19 risks are here to stay and should not let their guard down too soon.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc noted that transmission risks were still high, urging authorities at all levels and all citizens to remain focused on the main principles of the Covid-19 fight - identifying, quarantining, zoning and stamping out outbreaks; and providing effective treatment to patients.

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center under the Health Ministry, told people not to let their guard down even amid positive Covid-19 news across Vietnam the last few days.

Vietnam has gone six days straight without recording any new Covid-19 infection, keeping its tally at 268 since Thursday morning. Of these, 216 have made full recovery.

Hoa is happy since her parents can step outside without worrying and her children could return to school soon.

"The worst is over, normalcy is slowly returning and all we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones is to remain on guard."

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