Saigonese rattled as coronavirus returns with vengeance

To avoid crowds, in the last few days Nguyen Thu Giang of Binh Tan District has gone to the market only once, on Tuesday, at 5 a.m., an hour earlier than she normally does.

The woman, 37, says, "I do not want to be surrounded by anyone, Covid-19 has returned and any stranger can have the virus, I am scared."

"It is like tiptoeing through a minefield, Covid threats are everywhere."

Giang and her family are among millions of Saigonese who are worried as the Covid-19 pandemic has returned to their city with extreme vengeance, forcing them to walk on eggshells.

Local people cross the street towards a makeshift medic camp to get the novel coronavirus tests in Binh Thanh District, May 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Local people cross the street towards a makeshift medic camp to get the novel coronavirus tests in HCMC's Binh Thanh District, May 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

HCMC has recorded 288 cases so far in the latest wave that began five weeks ago.

Most new cases are related to the Revival Ekklesia Mission, a Christian sect, in Go Vap District, after the first was found one week ago.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said the Covid cluster at the mission is the "most dangerous" and "most difficult to control."

Go Vap District with its 676,000 people has been isolated and citywide social distancing has been imposed from Monday.

The increasing number of cases caused by the Indian strain, B.1.617.2, which is said to spread faster and pose more danger, has made people anxious and vigilant while carrying out their daily chores.

"I cannot sleep at night thinking about going to work and seeing my colleagues after knowing about many clusters from unknown sources," Le Thuy Vi of District 3 says.

The 35-year-old accountant recalls she had a runny nose last week and was "obsessed" by the idea that she might have the novel coronavirus.

"The noodles restaurant on District 3’s Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, where several patients were found, is only two kilometers from my office. I am so frightened."

The fear of infection is haunting people in Go Vap and those who came into close contact with them.

"I tested negative but I will stay at home for 21 days and test again to make sure I am healthy, so I can sleep better at night," Quan Thi Hoa, 63, who lives in the district’s Ward 15, says.

She met her sister’s family in District 1 before the infections related to the Christian congregation were discovered, and now they are extremely worried and avoid seeing other people.

"If we have the virus and accidentally transmit it to others, we will feel guilty," Hoa says.

Some people are also worried their buildings or neighborhoods could be locked down if a Covid-19 patient is found there, causing inconvenience.

As of Friday, around 40 spots in Saigon were locked down or quarantined after many Covid cases were detected there.

The iconic Turtle Lake in District 3, normally bustling with visitors and food stalls, has been cordoned off amid the rising number of Covid-19 infections. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

The iconic Turtle Lake in HCMC's District 3, normally bustling with visitors and food stalls, has been cordoned off amid the rising number of Covid-19 infections. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Many Saigonese anxiously confess on social networks that the first thing they do in the morning is to check if local authorities had wound tape around their alley or building at night.

Le Thi Hong Hoa of District 11 says: "I am afraid if my alley is locked down, I cannot go to work. But I will not be shocked if they put up some tape here one day. This variant is more transmissible."

Some people have found themselves in such a situation in the last few days: They have been told not to leave after their place was locked down.

"I cannot get past the elevators in the lobby... I do not know how I can have my food delivered," a man whose residential building has a Covid patient and is now under lockdown, said in a Facebook group for expats in Saigon.

Many people have chosen to practice strict social distancing and work from home.

"I want my children and parents to be safe, and so we all stay home and work from home," Giang says.

One day her parents wanted to go for a stroll after dinner, but she did not let them.

Many photos of streets deserted and without their regular crowds are shared on social media as the number of infections continues to rise.

Restaurants, bus stations, airport, public parks, are all derelict as people choose to avoid public spaces.

Looking out for disadvantaged

But some people have also stepped up amid the crisis to help their less fortunate brethren cope with it.

Workers in the informal sector have been among the worst hit by the latest outbreak and social distancing, and Nguyen The My, owner of a vegetarian restaurant in District 10, has been waking up early to cook free meals for many of them.

With support from his family, friends and local authorities, he has been providing thousands of meals to lottery sellers, street vendors and motorbike taxi drivers whose incomes have dried up.

People hope things will get better following the two weeks of social distancing.

"It is not easy when we must read the news every morning to see if a Covid patient lives in the neighborhood," Giang says.

Life as we knew it in the pre-pandemic era has become a pipe dream now, she laments.



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