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Chaos, frustration at Covid checkpoints as thousands leave HCMC

By Dinh Van, Phuoc Tuan   July 8, 2021 | 05:34 am PT
Chaos, frustration at Covid checkpoints as thousands leave HCMC
Traffic is jammed at a Covid-19 checkpoint on National Highway 1 as people try to leave HCMC before a social distancing order goes into effect after midnight, July 8, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van.
As an impending social distancing order in HCMC approaches, people wishing to leave the city find themselves in trouble when localities require negative coronavirus test results for entry.

It's already 10:30 a.m., yet thousands of vehicles remain stuck at a Covid-19 checkpoint on National Highway 1, which separate HCMC with its neighbor Long An, the gateway to the Mekong Delta.

Cars, trucks and numerous other vehicles lined up for over 500 meters Friday morning to wait for their clearance to go pass the checkpoint.

Those who wish to pass need a certificate to prove that they have tested negative for the coronavirus.

Carrying a multitude of personal belongings on the back of her motorbike, Nguyen Ngoc Minh Thai, 39, was clearly upset for not being allowed to go back to Tien Giang, which borders Long An.

"I thought having the certificate of being vaccinated against Covid-19 was enough, so I didn't get tested," she said. Around her, motorbikes were being checked, and those who didn't possess certificates were all made to turn back.

Thai said she would not be able to work at her hotel starting Friday, so she decided to pack her bags to return to her hometown, knowing she would have to undergo a 21-day self-isolation period.

"If I don't have a job here, how can I get money to eat and pay rent?" she said. She eventually had to to travel to the nearest hospital, about 15 km away, to get her coronavirus-negative certificate.

Ngoc Minh, a motorbike taxi driver for ride-hailing services, had more luck. He managed to secure a certificate by rushing to a hospital in HCMC at 6 a.m. to get tested.

"I immediately made my way to Dong Thap, as all ride-hailing services would be suspended tomorrow. Hopefully after the 21-day self-isolation period passes, I would be able to go back to the city for work," he said.

On National Highway 50 about 15 km away, another pathway connecting HCMC and other Mekong Delta provinces, dozens of medical workers and police officers stood guard at the entrance into Long An. They were holding up signs requiring people to show their negative coronavirus certificate within the last five days.

Many didn't have them, causing quite a hectic scene on the sides of the road.

Thanh Ly, 22, a kitchen assistant, said she had been denied entrance as her certificate was from June 2.

"I thought the certificate would stay eligible for seven days, but the police said it had expired," she said, adding that her restaurant had to close down as even takeaways would not be possible once the social distancing order takes effect.

She said she needed to return to her hometown before the social distancing period sets in, as she fears she would not be able to leave the city after that.

The situation doesn't fare much better at the eastern side of HCMC, which leads to Binh Duong and Dong Nai. On National Highway 1K, a toll station has been converted into a Covid-19 checkpoint to keep up with the sheer number of people wanting to leave HCMC.

As authorities checked for negative coronavirus certificates, lines of vehicles kept piling up behind the checkpoint.

A checkpoint employee said starting Wednesday afternoon, the number of people from HCMC passing through the station has increased, mostly traveling to provinces like Dong Nai, Binh Thuan, Khanh Hoa and Lam Dong. Most of them have the certificates.

Tran Van Lang, 28, said he decided to ride on his motorbike for eight hours to Khanh Hoa as all passenger buses have stopped operating.

"I just got tested for Covid-19 this morning to get the certificate. Hopefully I could return home soon to escape the pandemic," he said.

HCMC, now the nation's largest coronavirus hotspot, recorded 915 new local cases on Thursday, its highest daily coronavirus tally yet. It has recorded 9,066 cases so far in the fourth coronavirus wave since the fourth wave emerged in late April.

The city will undergo a 15-day social distancing period starting Friday to curb infections. Residents would be required to stay home and only go out for basic necessities such as buying food or medicines or to work at factories or businesses that are allowed to open.

People must also stay at least two meters away from each other, and no more than two people can gather at public places apart from workplaces, schools or hospitals.

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