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With social distancing ignored, urbanity reclaims vibrance

By Long Nguyen   April 10, 2020 | 09:20 pm PT
Amid the nationwide social distancing campaign, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are inundated with commuters and those exercising outdoors.

Wednesday afternoon, one week after the nationwide social distancing campaign was implemented across Vietnam, the area around Nhieu Loc Canal in Saigon's District 3 bustled with walking and jogging urbanites, some accompanied by pets, venturing well within the two meter exclusion zone.

Nearby, Vo Thi Sau Street was packed with the honking throb of commuters.

Vietnam launched a 15-day nationwide social distancing campaign on April 1, not allowing gatherings of more than two people and asking people to stay home, only going out when truly necessary.

People riding on a street of HCMC on April 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

HCMC commuters swarm on April 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

Many have dropped their guard, venturing out and joining crowds.

In Hanoi, around Nam Dong Lake in Dong Da District, where local authorities placed posters instructing locals to avoid gathering and exercising in public, dozens jog and chat each afternoon.

The same goes for Lang Street, Nghia Do Park, and Thong Nhat Park, since closed after a bout of crowding last week. Now, some breach the fence or run along the pavement surrounding the park.

Ho Chi Minh City suffers the same problem.

"Since last weekend, more people have gone out, especially during rush hour. I see no difference with the social distancing campaign," said Tran Van Tao, residing on Saigon’s Ba Thang Hai Street.

With many supermarkets and streetside markets remaining open, the number of shoppers has steadily grown.

Hanoi’s Nam Dong and Saigon’s Nguyen Tri Phuong markets still attract many urbanites flouting social distancing rules.

"We love fresh produce, and cannot be banned from visiting the market, so I go every day," said Nguyen Thi Thu Hoai, a housewife in Saigon’s District 10.

Delivery staff cluster at many local restaurants awaiting lunch and dinner orders.

Tran Thanh Son frequents over 12 eateries a day in search of deliveries, and confirms crowding is not rare.

Yearning for normalcy

For young people, "staying home for days without hanging out with friends is sure torture," said Nguyen Dang Khoa, a 24-year-old white-collar worker in Saigon’s Tan Binh District. 

Many elderly have opted for public exercise instead of staying indoors, even with health authorities recommending older people and those with underlying medical conditions to avoid contact with others.

"It is boring and stressful to remain home every day. I know what is recommended, but jogging in the afternoon makes me feel better," said Nguyen Thi Kim Hoa, 62, from Saigon’s Go Vap District.

Hanoians gather and talk on Ton That Tung Street on April 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Hanoians converse on Ton That Tung Street on April 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Many people have no choice but hitting the streets and earning.

Every afternoon, thousands of workers at Tan Tao Industrial Zone in Saigon’s Binh Tan District rush to catch a bus home, creating chaotic, overcrowded conditions.

Keeping the powder dry

According to government office chief Mai Tien Dung, slowing infections means little, and the risk of contracting the deadly virus remains high.

As of Saturday, Vietnam had discharged 144 of 257 Covid-19 cases recorded so far.

Carelessness during this period can be disastrous because of untraced community infections, said Dung.

"I restate, if people act carelessly, the risk of increased infection remains a threat. The government requires everyone to practice social distancing as a matter of urgency," Dung maintained on April 9.

In a meeting on the same day, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has asked law enforcement agencies to strictly discipline those violating social distancing rules and not wearing face masks.

"The results we have achieved so far are quite encouraging but the threat still remains unchanged." No one should neglect social distancing rules and let their guard down, Phuc said.

Apart from warning people gathering in groups in public places, including those doing exercises, in several places, police have fined people found going out for "non-essential" purposes. The typical fine in such cases is VND200,000 ($8.58). In some cases, those ignoring the rule to organize public gatherings have been fined up to VND12 million ($510).

Meanwhile, Vietnam has entered the third stage of the epidemic with several community transmissions and some sources yet to be detected, which requires strict deployment of social distancing, recently said Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son.

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