Subsiding pandemic brings new sense of complacency

By Dang Khoa, Linh DoMarch 10, 2022 | 05:10 pm PT
With the Covid-19 pandemic gradually coming under control, and high rate of vaccination, people are letting their guard down, flouting all safety rules.

In Hanoi's Long Bien District, Nguyen Huong Linh, 32, who contracted Covid in late February and recently recovered, says she no longer feels afraid of the coronavirus and has gotten used to the fact it "may never go away."

"I’m just tired of all those rules and want my normal life back."

She has stopped following the daily tally of new infections in the news, saying she no longer wants to deal with the fear that has lasted for over two years.

People should not worry too much since many are fully vaccinated and the latest variant, Omicron, is not severe, she says.

She claims some neighbors who are infected but only have mild symptoms are carrying on with their normal routines like sweeping their front yard or going to the supermarket.

"Not just me but many people don't want to let Covid dictate our lives anymore. Everyone will contract the virus eventually anyway."

These days many people, especially younger ones who feel confident about their health, share Linh’s attitude that, with vaccination, they should go on with their lives as usual because they cannot avoid Covid forever and will catch it sooner or later, and will recover quickly once they are infected.

Apparently, they, and Linh, have never heard of herd immunity.

In Hanoi and HCMC, people can be seen gathering in eateries and on the streets without masks or maintaining social distance.

People eat ice cream on the sidewalk in Hanoi on Feb. 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

People eat ice cream on the sidewalk in Hanoi on Feb. 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Many Covid patients also fail to notify authorities about their infection and ignore quarantine rules though health authorities exhort people to take necessary precautions.

Nguyen Minh Trung, 35, of Hanoi's Cau Giay District did not fear the coronavirus since he was fully vaccinated, and so thought nothing about hanging out in groups and rarely wore masks.

"I assumed it would take me less than a week of quarantine before I could return to work, and have better immunity when I recover," he says.

He and six others tested positive for Covid after attending a party last week. It has been almost 10 days but he is still debilitated and cannot return to work.

Returning to normalcy with poise, or haste?

Though the Ministry of Health has called for stopping the daily updates on new infections to prevent needles public fear since other, more accurate measures such as the death rate have dropped significantly, it is yet to consider Covid endemic.

Though from February to March, the number of daily cases in the country increased by 198 percent to 125,000, the number of deaths decreased by 47 percent, hospitalizations by 24 percent and severe and critical cases by 43 percent.

But the numbers remain unpredictable and vary wildly, and the death tally remains high at around 100 a day, which is higher than the figures recorded during the peak periods of diseases such as rabies, dengue fever and measles every year.

Consequently, health authorities have warned that as activities, especially international tourism, return to normalcy, Covid-19 will continue to spread and possibly burden the healthcare system.

Indeed, in recent days the rapid spread of infection has forced many businesses to switch back to remote work. In some companies, as many as 20 percent of employees contracted the virus and had to work from home.

According to Tran Minh Huy, an accountant living in HCMC’s District 3, six people in his eight-member team in office contracted Covid and had to stay at home to monitor their health. For 10 days he and the other remaining member had to handle the entire team’s work.

Nguyen The Anh of Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, an IT programmer, says with increasing numbers of new cases, his company has told many employees to work from home until further notice.

Some people like The Anh, and those who have old parents or children, remain cautious and do not take any chances.

"I’m very happy to be able to work from home, since I’m very scared of catching the virus," Anh says. "At home, I feel relaxed and peaceful and safe from public contamination and can concentrate more on work."

In Hanoi, the country’s Covid epicenter where schools have reopened, many parents are fearful their unvaccinated children would contract the coronavirus.

"I cannot let my guard down because my family has been safe for almost two years," Nguyen Lan Anh, who lives with three generations of her family in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem District, says.

The 53-year-old mother of three was thrilled when her son’s primary school delayed its reopening in February. She has also decided to keep her 15-year-old daughter at home for online lessons rather than send her to school.

"At work, I wear three layers of masks and gloves all the time," the white-collar worker says, adding she is worried Covid could cause unexpected and lasting health effects.

In the last few days the usual bustle and hustle is missing on some streets, and in its place is a quietness as stores and restaurants have closed to prevent the spread of infection.

Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hanoi’s tourist hub, has been quiet, with closed restaurants amid looming Covid shadow. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hanoi’s tourist hub, has been quiet, with closed restaurants amid looming Covid shadow. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

"The number of new Covid cases in the city keeps rising," Nguyen Thu Trang, owner of a pho restaurant on Tran Hung Dao Street, says. "I have to close my restaurant to prevent the infection risks posed by customers."

But for some others, Covid is not nearly as much an issue as social distancing and other restrictions.

With over 76 million people being fully vaccinated and over 42 million getting a third shot, many people are throwing caution to the wind.

"The purpose of full vaccination is to return to normalcy, so I don’t care about Covid restrictions any more," Nguyen Thanh Tuyen, 32, of HCMC's District 4 proclaims.

Bui Quoc Cuong, 25, of District 3 is tired and desperate and wants to resume socializing and dating. "I can’t stand being at home all day any longer," he says unhappily. "It makes me feel lonely."

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