Vietnamese enjoy slow but sure return to normalcy

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenOctober 31, 2021 | 04:36 pm PT
A high vaccination rate means people in Hanoi and HCMC are returning to their daily rhythms but without dropping their guard against Covid-19.

Nguyen Thanh Tung, 27, an office worker in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1, wraps up his day by working out at a gym near his house in District 10 before going home for dinner with his family or seeing his friends at Ho Thi Ky Night Market.

"Having snacks and bubble tea with friends was what I was longing for during the recent lockdown, and now everything has slowly resumed," he says while standing in line to buy fried chicken from a street vendor in the market, a street food haven.

Saigonese visit Ho Thi Ky Street in District 10, a popular spot among foodies with over 100 stalls, on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

Saigonese visit Ho Thi Ky Street in District 10, a popular spot among foodies with over 100 stalls, on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

Around him, the parking lot is filled with hundreds of motorbikes and the sounds of honking and people talking, as they stand under fluorescent bulbs and wait to buy their favorite snacks.

"I am fully vaccinated, and so quite confident venturing out," Tung says.

He is among 5.7 million Saigonese who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus and are stepping into the new normal.

As the outbreak gradually under control, high vaccination rates in cities like HCMC and Hanoi and authorities’ shift from a zero-virus strategy to living with the pandemic has enabled these localities to lift most restrictions and resume most activities.

This has encouraged more people to return to their daily rhythms and fill up eateries, malls, offices, airports, and public spaces once again.

Many daily activities like going to religious places, shopping and working out have also resumed.

"I am happy that I can go to the church and see my friends every day," Nguyen Thi Binh of District 3 says.

"Online church service was okay, but we all yearned for social interaction".

People, especially young ones, are thrilled to touch base with friends after months of lockdowns.

Nguyen Thuy Ly, a student in HCMC’s District 10, says, "Life is almost normal now. I can have coffee or dinner with my friends at eateries instead of buying takeout".

The southern metro again allowed dine-in guests at restaurants and coffee shops starting Thursday after five months of bans.

A coffee shop on Hanois Ba Trieu Street is full of customers on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

A coffee shop on Hanoi's Ba Trieu Street is full of customers, Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Hanoi allowed dine-in customers, reopened parks and hotels and resumed public transportation in mid-October.

Offices have also reopened, allowing millions of vaccinated workers to return to work.

"We had employees coming to work in turns last month, but with the pandemic situation less severe in October, everyone is back and every thing is at full capacity," Truong Thi Thuy, an HR officer at a paper-producing firm in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, said.

Le Thi Kim, a butcher at Saigon's Ban Co Market, said she was at ease with reopening her stall.

"Most people around me and I are all vaccinated, so I am not worried".

Resumption of domestic air services and interprovincial transport has also brought back an air of normalcy, with people sighing in relief at being able to go on business trips or reunite with family and friends.

Precautions still needed

With the pandemic not fully contained yet, many people understand that the virus still poses a threat and take precautions as a matter of habit now.

Tran Thi Mai, 40, of HCMC's District 3, her husband and mother are all fully vaccinated, but she still strictly complies with safety measures like avoiding crowded places since she is worried for her 10-year-old son.

"I won't feel safe until my son is fully vaccinated".

As previously reported, Vietnam now uses the Pfizer vaccine to immunize people aged 12-17.

Face masks and hand sanitizers are still ubiquitous, reminding people of the pandemic.

People are also required to scan QR codes to make health declarations before entering public places.

"Scanning QR codes is now a part of our daily life: we scan at work, in malls, in coffee shops," Nguyen Thanh Tuan, a banker in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, says.

A person scans a QR code for medical declaration before entering a pho shop on Hanois Hai Ba Trung Street on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

A person scans a QR code for medical declaration before entering a pho shop on Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung Street on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

In both Hanoi and HCMC, employees at eateries must be fully vaccinated, and customers have to make a health declaration via QR code before entering.

As the country learns to live with the virus, the government is urging people to be personally responsible to ensure safety.

Besides speeding up vaccination, it is gradually lifting mandates and restrictions to reopen the economy.

Restaurants and other food and beverage establishments in Hanoi and HCMC are allowed to have dine-in customers at half their maximum capacity.

While the capital has not permitted businesses to sell alcohol, HCMC has given the green light to regular restaurants in District 7 and Thu Duc City to serve alcohol on a trial basis until Nov. 15, but requires all to close by 9 p.m.

The country is still gingerly moving toward normalcy but the pandemic remains a threat.

In recent days new clusters have been found in many parts of the country, mostly linked to people returning from HCMC and its neighboring localities after they eased restrictions in early Oct., allowing migrant workers to travel to their hometowns.

Northern localities like Hanoi and Bac Giang and Vinh Phuc provinces have also reported infections among returnees. As of Monday, the country has recorded more than 916,000 Covid cases in the current outbreak.

Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said Sunday: "We are worried about new outbreaks in the coming time. Localities need to remain vigilant."

In HCMC, Tung plans to eat hotpot with his friends this weekend, something they have not done since the outbreak resurfaced in late April.

He has bought some Covid test kits and will use them if he has symptoms.

"I enjoy normal life but I will not forget that the coronavirus is still here and will be here for long."

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