Social distancing ease resuscitates Hanoi bustle

By Vo Hai, Tat Dinh, Gia Chinh   April 23, 2020 | 12:26 am PT
Social distancing ease resuscitates Hanoi bustle
Vehicles on a street by Hanoi's Sword Lake in the morning of April 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
Several shops and businesses across the capital have reopened and streets filled with commuters after a three-week social distancing campaign was lifted Thursday.

It was close to midnight on Wednesday when Lo Viet Hoang finished a 12-hour taxi ride from his hometown in the northern province of Dien Bien to Hanoi.

The 27-year-old was summoned by his boss who owns a restaurant on Nghia Tan Street, Cau Giay District to help prepare for reopening after the city was classified at "lower risk" of Covid-19 infection and certain businesses were allowed to recommence operations.

Hoang and four other employees were told to take unpaid leave a month ago when the pandemic prompted the government to shut down "non-essential" businesses, which include bars, coffee shops and restaurants.

"I was informed last minute and could only pack a suitcase with my clothes before catching a taxi costing over VND6 million ($253) in the absence of public bus services. I had no job for the whole month, so life was difficult," he said.

At the restaurant, Hoang boiled a pot of cinnamon water to dissipate the moldy smell permeating the shop, swept the floor and washed the dishes.

"We have spent all day cleaning and buying new ingredients. If all goes well, tonight we will be back in business," said Hoang.

The social distancing campaign in Hanoi and HCMC under the Prime Minister's Directive 16 was lifted at midnight Thursday. Certain restrictions on public gatherings remain and both cities are required to monitor the opening of businesses and services in their areas of jurisdiction.

Nguyen Duc Chung, Chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, said that the city will continue to prohibit typically crowded bars, karaokes, restaurants, game centers and tea shops from opening. Festivals and sport events will also remain on pause. Citizens should remain cautious and still wear masks when going out, or else face a fine.

Restaurants and cafés are allowed to operate if customers keep their distance from one another. There should be screens between them, he said.

Buses, taxis and ride-hailing services can resume operations, but the city will set certain restrictions; for instance, on the number of seats that can be filled and should remain empty. All means of transportation need to have hand-sanitizer at hand.

Visitors to shopping centers and supermarkets must also keep a distance from each other. Staff should measure visitors' body temperatures and avoid crowding.

Commuters must also keep their distance. Police will help remind citizens to keep apart when stopping at a red light.

After midnight on Thursday, Ta Hien - Luong Ngoc Quyen intersection, the busiest nightlife hub in Hanoi and the iconic Sword Lake area, remained deserted. The area hosts a legion of bars, restaurants and street businesses like ice tea vendors though none have been allowed to reopen.

At Tong Duy Tan food street, some restaurants have commenced service. Linh, owner of a pho restaurant at the entrance of Cam Chi Ke 4 alley, only set up four tables out, a lot less than before, all filled. Many passers-by wanted to eat there but the restaurant, at full capacity, could only give out takeaways.

"I read the news about the loosened restrictions last night so I immediately went and bought food. I don't know when it would get crowded like before but I'm really happy about being able to reopen," Linh said.

On Thursday morning, Nguyen Chinh Thanh, 34, owner of a shop that sells banh mi and lemon tea on Dinh Liet Street in Hoan Kiem District, set out tables and chairs to prepare for reopening with his staff.

Thanh started to invest in the business at the beginning of this year, spending VND40 million ($1,700) a month on rent, paying for his three employees on top. He did not earn as much as he expected in the first two months of business because of Covid-19, and had to close at the beginning of March while still paying rent and salaries.

Nguyen Chi Thanh (left) cleans up his shop to prepare for the reopening on Wednesday midnight, April 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh

Nguyen Chi Thanh cleans up his shop on Dinh Liet Street, Hanoi to prepare for reopening, early on April 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

"Every day I looked forward to the end of social distancing. If it lasted a few more weeks, I would have had to shut up shop entirely," Thanh said, adding he only serves takeaways at present.

Thanh and his staff still follow prevention measures including wearing masks and asking customers not to stand too close to each other.

At some parks and apartments, many still wore masks while exercising outdoors this morning while traffic congestion remains limited.

Tran Van Kien, a 25-year-old employee at a tech company on Duong Dinh Nghe Street, said on Wednesday night he received a notice from his company asking everyone to return to work.

"People working in tech like us can work remotely, which won’t affect our productivity. However, (online) group discussions take longer than face-to-face meetings. This morning I went to work and saw the streets were still quiet," Kien said.

On Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hang Ma, Dong Xuan, and Hang Duong streets in central Hanoi, some shops have reopened.

"Hopefully the disease does not break out again and we can work in peace," a fashion shop owner said.

Implementing the Prime Minister's Directive 15 following the social distancing campaign under Directive 16 ending on Thursday, except for some districts of Hanoi, Bac Ninh and Ha Giang, localities across the country will continue to stop social events, gatherings of over 20 people in one space and gatherings of 10 people or more outside workplaces, schools and hospitals. A minimum distance of two meters would still be maintained in public.

Hanoi has decided to let kindergarten and primary school children to return to class on May 11, and older children a week earlier.

The city has recorded 112 Covid-19 cases so far, of which 81 have been discharged and 31 are under treatment. No new case has been recorded since April 16.

Vietnam has gone through a week without a new infection. Of its 268 cases, only 44 are still active, while the rest have been discharged from hospital.

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