Wary of coronavirus, the crowd gets food delivered

By Long Nguyen   February 20, 2020 | 11:11 pm PT
Wary of coronavirus, the crowd gets food delivered
A Grab delivery man hands over food ordered by a customer in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Shutterstock/StreetVJ.
Nguyen Duc Tuan goes straight home from work. This is highly unusual behavior for the man who’s a diehard fan of eating out.

The salesman for a HCMC-based company, whose longstanding habit is to have dinner at local restaurants, both for convenience and because he enjoys hanging out with friends and colleagues, has eschewed his habit for several weeks. The 29-year-old man uses delivery services now.

"I try to put my mind at ease by eating at home, so that I can avoid contact with strangers," he explained.

While the novel coronavirus epidemic has hit several businesses hard in Vietnam, food delivery services have received a boost with more people staying indoors.

According to a survey by HCMC market research firm Q&Me this week, 83 percent of respondents in Hanoi and HCMC said they have limited eating out over the novel coronavirus fears. The survey also found 39 percent of the respondents using online food delivery services.

After the government declared the novel coronavirus outbreak an epidemic on February 1, Le Thanh Quy and five other colleagues at a consultancy firm in HCMC’s District 1 decided not to go out for lunch. Since none of them usually bring their meals from home, and the office has no kitchen, delivery services were the way to go.

"We’ve made a monthly order for February, the restaurant delivers at 10 a.m. every day," Quy said, adding that the group has lunch together in the company’s meeting room, making it smelly sometimes.

But "a smelly room is still better than going out for lunch and taking the risk."

The demand for online food orders has not only increased among young people, but also among those who  are nervous about going shopping at local markets and supermarkets.

Truong Anh Tuyet, 52, gave up on shopping in traditional wet markets after the Lunar New Year break (January 23-29). Instead of going to her usual market in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, she makes a list of items she needs and asks her son to order them online, twice a week.

"Of course it is more expensive, only supermarkets or fancy stores offer delivery services, but it is okay as long as we do not have to join the crowd," Tuyet said.

A crowd of deliverers

Drivers for ride-hailing firms have been worried about people staying at home and the prolonged closure of schools and universities. Home delivery is making up, to an extent.

"Yesterday I had only two passengers, but up to 13 orders for food delivery," said Nguyen Thanh Sang, a Grab driver, as he waited for staff at a banh mi stall in District 11 prepare his takeaway order. Standing next to him were three other drivers on the same assignment.

A survey by ride-hailing firm Go-Viet shows that demand for food delivery has risen sharply. From February 2 to 9, there were 650,000 food orders on the platform, with numbers increasing every day.  

Sang noted that with fewer clients eating at the restaurants, cooks can make delivery orders faster, so drivers can save time and can taken on more work, especially during lunch and dinner time.

On Saigon’s Nguyen Tri Phuong and Su Van Hanh Streets, well known for local eateries, many are crowded these days with drivers wearing the uniform of various delivery companies like Grab, Go-Viet, NowFood and Baemin.

"The number of online orders has doubled compared with the time before the Tet break," said Huong Quynh, owner of a fruit shop in Hanoi’s Long Bien District.

Other companies that foresaw the situation were better prepared. A representative of the Golden Gate Group, which runs many restaurant chains including Manwah, GoGi, Hutong, Kichi-Kichi and Ashima, said they had already prepared a strategy to promote home delivery services to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Some delivery service providers have adopted policies to ease the concerns of clients by having the deliverers wear masks and gloves.

"A bubble tea shop asked to check my body temperature before I enter their shop," Nguyen Truong, a delivery man, recalled.

Since they have to come into contact with many people, from restaurants to offices and homes, many drivers never take their masks off.

"I go the restroom in restaurants to wash my hands, which is one step I can take to protect myself and my clients," said Dang Anh Tuan, a Grab driver in HCMC.

As of Friday morning, Vietnam had 16 confirmed infection cases, of whom 14 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.

The global death toll of the epidemic has reached 2,247.

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