Yes no yes no: uncertainty hits Hanoi businesses hard

By Pham Chieu, Vo Hai   January 12, 2022 | 05:00 pm PT
Yes no yes no: uncertainty hits Hanoi businesses hard
A coffee shop in Hanoi is partly open to serve takeaways amid Covid-19 restrictions, May 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Beleaguered Hanoi businesses want the city to adjust its Covid-19 risk assessments and prevent the situation of having to close and reopen every other week.

On Monday, a coffee shop on Hoan Kiem District’s Dinh Le Street began cleaning up and setting up tables to reopen, after spending half a month sending takeaways.

Hung, an employee, said that for over past two weeks "only a few regular customers came by a day for takeaways."

Dinh Le is part of Trang Tien Ward, one of five wards of Hoan Kiem currently determined as having a medium coronavirus risk, and thus allowed to resume in-person dining services. The other four are Phan Chu Trinh, Tran Hung Dao, Hang Trong, Trang Tien and Hang Bac.

Hoan Kiem District as a whole is still at high coronavirus risk, so all wards outside of the aforementioned five must still stick to doing takeaway orders.

However, as a small downtown district that's only around 5.29 square kilometers wide, residents can travel between wards easily to shop and eat out as they please.

Hanoi classifies its regions into different coronavirus risk levels based on several metrics, including the number of community transmission cases, vaccination rates and medical capabilities. Amid an ongoing Covid-19 surge in the capital, almost all of its major districts have seen their coronavirus risk levels shift 2-3 times already, meaning decisions to resume and suspend businesses and services have also flipped and flopped multiple times.

Just two weeks prior, downtown districts like Hoan Kiem, Tay Ho and Hai Ba Trung only allowed takeaways, but are allowing food and beverage businesses to reopen this week.

Cau Giay District, however, has to suspend in-person dining and only allow takeaways this week once its coronavirus risk level changed to high.

Ngoc Anh, a restaurant owner on Tran Dai Nghia Street in Hai Ba Trung District, said it's too much pressure to wait for every weekend to see if they can open next week or not. She said authorities should instead just isolate areas with infections and let services operate as usual, as closing down and reopening every week is too unstable for any business.

"If the city wants to ban services, those bans need to be applied citywide to avoid people simply moving to another region to enjoy services. That would be much more difficult to manage," she said.

Tran Quang Huy, who lives on Dang Van Ngu Street in Dong Da District, said he had to travel five kilometers to another district to enjoy breakfast or coffee with friends because his district has increased its coronavirus risk level.

"Even though it's the new normal, I feel like we're still in a social distancing period," he said.

New metrics

Tran Van Phuc, a doctor at the Saint Paul General Hospital, said the daily number of infections may increase, but that should not be a metric to determine an area's coronavirus risk level.

"The criteria to determine coronavirus risk levels should be changed. If we go with what we have now, all of Hanoi would be a risk zone," he said.

Around 99 percent of adults in the capital have already received two Covid-19 vaccine shots, and coronavirus cases and their close contacts have been allowed to be quarantined and treated at home.

Under current measures to contain the coronavirus, Hanoi's daily infection tally may increase but its number of severe cases and deaths remain lower than the national average, Phuc said.

From January 3 to January 9, the Covid-19 fatality rate in Hanoi was around 0.4 percent against the national average of over 1.3 percent, he added.

Coronavirus risk levels should be determined based on the number of beds used at ICUs and the death rate, Phuc argued.

Regarding vaccination rate, most of Vietnam have basically received vaccine coverage, so such a metric might no longer be necessary, he added.

As long as the number of used beds in ICUs doesn't exceed 70 percent, the situation should still be considered "safe," he said.

Taking a more cautious approach, Tran Dac Phu, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, said a surge in the number of infections may lead to system overload and eventually increase the number of severe cases and deaths.

"Based on scientific findings and real-world experience, the number of infections should still be a metric to be managed because it reflects what the coronavirus situation looks like," Phu said, adding that authorities could stop announcing the number of daily new cases while still keeping track of it for policy changes deemed necessary.

Phuc also proposed separating Covid-19 cases into two categories: infected people are those who test positive for the coronavirus while Covid-19 patients are symptomatic cases.

"Changes in how we compile data and present statistics through dividing Covid-19 cases into two categories would help with prevention of the disease and provision of treatment for patients," he said.

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