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Traffic surges in HCMC despite social distancing order

By Ha An, Gia Minh   August 17, 2021 | 09:55 pm PT
Traffic surges in HCMC despite social distancing order
Commuters on Vo Thi Sau Street in HCMC's District 3, August 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An
The number of vehicles on the roads in HCMC has increased significantly in recent days despite the social distancing rule and ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

According to the municipal Department of Transport, when the city started applying Directive 16 on July 9, the average traffic volume had dropped significantly throughout July, by an average 74-79 percent each day compared to before.

Noticeably, the decrease stayed at 86 percent on July 11 and 25.

Directive 16 is the strictest social distancing rule in Vietnam for now. It does not allow anyone to leave home unless they could prove they are out for "essential purposes" including buying food and seeking medical treatment or work at places still allowed to operate. Other cases that are allowed on the street are shippers delivering products regulated "essential" by authorities, including food.

However, since early this month, more people have been out on the street and for many days, the traffic density on the roads has dropped by just 65-69 percent compared to before.

Currently, motorbikes account for most vehicles out and about.

From Aug. 9 to 16, the proportion of motorbikes made up an average 40-46 percent of the total number of vehicles, followed by trucks at 28-35 percent and cars at 16-28 percent, said the Transport Department.

A local traffic officer said since Monday when the city allowed more industries to resume operation, including facilities making bread and noodles, insurance and notary agencies as well as private clinics, more people have been going out.

Moreover, shippers are now allowed to move from district to district instead of operating in just one district as before.

He said previously, checkpoint officials could inspect each commuter but in recent days, especially in the morning, inspections had occurred randomly while some checkpoints have been removed to ease traffic flow.

Standing in front of Gia Dinh Hospital in Binh Thanh District to wait for a family member undergoing dialysis Tuesday, Nguyen Minh Hoang, 55, said in recent days, the traffic volume on the street had been three to four times higher than previously.

"I have to visit this hospital three times a week so I can tell there has been a significant increase in the traffic volume this month compared to last month," he said.

Nguyen Huy Nga, a former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine under the Health Ministry, said though it doesn't preclude the possibility that some people have neglected social distancing rules, the major reason for the increase in traffic density is that many have stayed at home for way too long as the city experiences three months of social distancing at different levels.

Besides, many people that have been financially hit by the pandemic can no longer remain at home and must get out to earn a living one way or another, said Nga.

At the same time, many residential areas have been blockaded, prompting higher demand for shipping services, while hospitals have now been overloaded and many patients, either suffering from Covid-19 or other conditions, have had to treat themselves at home, which means their family members have to go out more for medicine and other related products.

Given the situation, "the city must now ensure people will not lack food and shelter, and have policies to support those in need in terms of money or food to limit them from going out as much as possible," he said.

"The Covid-19 situation in the city is still complicated and ensuring a distance among people must be a top priority. If that is not done well, all the city's efforts over the past three months to fight this recent outbreak will go in vain," said Nga.

For over a month now HCMC has been the epicenter of the ongoing Covid-19 wave that began in late April.

It has reported 156,186 cases and 5,197 deaths so far.

The city of 13 million last Sunday extended social distancing under Directive 16 by another month until Sept. 15.

The city has applied social distancing measures at different levels since May 31, during which it has suspended all non-essential services, shut down street-side markets, banned food and drink takeaways and all ride-hailing services.

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