Vietnamese turn lax amid looming Covid-19 threat

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenApril 28, 2021 | 12:36 am PT
While some Vietnamese are rattled by a potential Covid-19 outbreak, many have dropped their guard as countries in the region grapple with new waves of infection.

On April 25, thousands of people gathered in the pedestrian zone surrounding Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Though local authorities had set up several checkpoints reminding visitors to wear their masks and maintain a safe social distance, few took heed.

"The last outbreak occurred nearly three months ago - we have no reason to be vigilant right now," said Nguyen Thanh Tung, a university student eating ice cream at a shop serving scores of patrons.

In similar vein, a host of Vietnamese have dropped their guard as neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos, and India struggle to contain surging Covid-19 infections.

Some people do not wear masks at Saigons Mien Dong (Eastern Region) Bus Station, April 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

Some passengers at Saigon's Mien Dong (Eastern Region) Bus Station refrain from wearing masks on April 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

The National Steering Committee on Covid-19 Prevention and Control and the Health Ministry have warned about a new outbreak in the country as people illegally enter Vietnam from infected regions and citizens ignore Covid-19 prevention measures.

On April 26, at a mall in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, security staff required shoppers to wear masks before entering, though most simply removed them once inside.

"I know the pandemic is still around, but with no community transmissions in almost two months, we have a reason to relax," said Le Thi Ngoc, surrounded by customers grouped close together.

Street cafes and tea stalls have also attracted many customers and, of course, removing their masks while eating and conversing.

"Summer is here, and it's too hot to wear a mask all day," a man said while having lunch with a friend at a pho restaurant on Hong Tien Street on Thursday.

With the four-day Reunification Day (April 30) and Labor Day (May 1) vacation around the corner, many Vietnamese are expected to join tours and visit places of amusement, which has health experts worried.

According to a survey by Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board and VnExpress in March, of 3,500 respondents, 53.4 percent had plans to travel between May and September, while 30.2 percent said they were ready to go on holiday in March and April.

Meanwhile, travel firms said up to 95-100 percent of tours had been booked for the four-day national holiday.

Recently, thousands of people flocked to Sam Son beach town in Thanh Hoa Province, central Vietnam to attend the opening ceremony of a tourism festival, with many failing to wear face masks amid large crowds. Images in the media had subsequently raised big concerns over Covid-19 risks.

"I will still travel with my family, since our flight tickets and accommodation have already been booked. I don’t think the Covid-19 situation in Vietnam is that serious," said Hanoi-based teacher Nguyen Phuong Thao, who will fly to southern Phu Quoc Island in the coming holiday.

After three waves of infection were all brought under control, many Vietnamese, well versed in protective measures, believe life has returned to normal.

"Jeez, the threat lies in provinces bordering China, Cambodia, or Laos, we are relatively safe here in Saigon," said local motorbike taxi driver Huynh Thanh An.

One of his colleagues agreed, saying he had confidence the pandemic only had a "tiny chance" of returning after nearly two months without a single community transmission.

The Covid-19 outbreak in northern Hai Duong Province on Jan. 28 had kept Vietnamese at home during the past Lunar New Year holiday, further prompting the present travel rush.

"The four-day holiday is long enough for people to make up for Lunar New Year," sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh told VnExpress, adding many people have been yearning for a vacation. Hence, the coming holiday is a "perfect solution."

Saigons Tan Son Nhat Airport is packed with travelers, April 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Saigon's Tan Son Nhat International Airport is packed with travelers on April 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

‘India-like scenario’

With Vietnam entering a four-day holiday after a month without local Covid-19 transmissions, health experts warn of a possible India-like scenario.

The health sector, eyeing the outbreaks in Laos and Cambodia, is preparing for the worst scenario.

Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long warned Sunday that Vietnam faces a great risk of imported Covid-19 infections.

While Vietnam has sealed its borders, there are occasional illegal entrants who evade checkpoints to avoid mandatory quarantine. Several foreigners have also been caught entering the country illegally.

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, also warned: "Traveling, meeting and gathering during the upcoming holidays would create opportunities for the virus to spread widely once it enters the nation."

In a Monday meeting, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh ordered people's committee chairmen to ensure local residents wear face masks in crowded areas.

Many offices, malls, and restaurants are again requiring people to wear face masks and sanitize their hands while on the premises.

"Since the Covid-19 situation may turn complicated, we required all employees to wear masks and temporarily refrain from using fingerprint scanners," a paper-producing company in Hanoi’s Long Bien District stated.

Several tea stalls across Hanoi have also been quieter recently, as local authorities keep a watchful eye out for those not wearing masks in public.

Localities across Vietnam like Saigon, Quang Ninh, Nghe An, Quang Tri, and Hanoi have canceled fireworks shows and festivals in the wake of the Covid-19 threat.

A number of people have also canceled their travel plans during the coming holiday due to fears over a possible outbreak.

"I decided to postpone my trip to Da Lat after reading about Covid-19 threats from neighboring countries. Health and safety must come first," said Saigon-based banker Nguyen Thanh Huy.

According to some tourism firms, many patrons are worried by the surging number of new Covid-19 cases around the world, so many have chosen closer destinations or private vehicles to mitigate infection risks.

In Hanoi, local authorities have required all travelers to submit health declarations on return.

"I don’t want to waste money by cancelling air tickets or hotel bookings, so I will travel and hold my breath, hoping things will be okay," a white-collar worker in Hanoi en route to Saigon this weekend, said.

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