Vietnamese drop their guard as coronavirus maintains onslaught

By Long Nguyen   February 25, 2020 | 08:04 pm PT
As the coronavirus spreads to various countries, some Vietnamese are turning lax when it comes to personal safety.

Late Monday night, foreigners and locals flooded Saigon's Bui Vien backpacker street with many restaurants and bars serving customers.

At a local pub, youngsters were talking enthusiastically while drinking beer and sitting on the sidewalk; none wearing masks.

"I think it is safer to go out than it used to be. We cannot halt hanging out for too long," said Nguyen Quang Thinh, a student at a District 10 university. He explained his friends were too bored while the university remains closed, forcing them go out for a drink on a Monday night.

Thinh is not the only one opting for outdoor respite. 

Tourists and locals at Bui Vien Streets on February 22, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

Saigon's Bui Vien Street on February 22, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

After the Vietnamese government declared Covid-19 an epidemic on February 1, some are venturing out and ignoring preventative measures, so strictly followed a few weeks ago.

For many millennials in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, not going to coffee shops and eateries is not an easy thing to do, making public gatherings inevitable, despite the risks of getting infected by the deadly virus.

In HCMC, some coffee shops have witnessed an increasing number of customers recently.

At a Starbucks in Saigon's District 3, dozens of young people, many not wearing face masks, gathered around cups of frappuccino and lattes last weekend. The only people wearing masks were staff members.

Nguyen Thuy Ngan, a barista, the number of customers has increased significantly since last week. "We are returning to normalcy."

Covid-19 emptied many streets. However, people of all ages, including families, have started flooding places like Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street, famous for its milk tea stores.

"School is closed, and my daughter is bored, so I brought her here to enjoy the vibe and some fast food," said 34-year-old Le Kim Anh.

Commenting on the coronavirus, the mother said Saigon is too hot and "making the virus too weak to be harmful."

For many, especially white-collar workers, going out is a Hobson's choice, with preventative measures like wearing masks at the office or sanitizing hands increasingly neglected.

Truong Thi Thuy, an accountant in Hanoi's Long Bien District, has stopped bringing her lunch to the office every day.

"The epidemic is under control, and eating out is way more convenient," she explained, adding masks made it difficult for her to breathe.

In HCMC, many have given up on wearing masks at the office, with little notice from employers.

"My colleagues stopped wearing masks last week, there being no coughing or sneezing in the office. We are at ease," said Pham Nguyen Thu An, a headhunter in District 1.

Some other people cannot wait to resume normal life after living with preventative measures for almost one month.

"I know it (the epidemic) is still present, but it is impossible to go back and forth with a mask between my office and apartment for one month, I need to hang out," Hai said while drinking with his friends on Bui Vien Street.

Saigonese hang out at a local tea shop on Dong Khoi Street on February 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

Saigonese hang out at a street-side tea shop on Dong Khoi Street on February 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

As of Tuesday, the last of the 16 infection novel coronavirus infections detected so far in Vietnam had fully recovered. Over the past 13 days, no new infection case has been reported in the country.

However, Chairman of Hanoi People Committee Nguyen Duc last week said: "Everything must be ready at the highest level, we cannot stay off-guard."

The Covid-19 is affecting 39 countries and territories. Death toll has crossed 2,700, mostly in China.

Chung recommended people avoid crowded areas, including the 1,600 karaoke bars across the capital, to stem the spread of the virus.

Some still opt for crowds, leave their masks at home and resume normal life.

"I hope they will keep a close watch on arrivals from South Korea, and that there are no more infections, so things can return to normal," Thinh said while making toast.

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