Gathering in public, often without masks, capital residents are dropping their guard with the latest Covid-19 threat perceived to be elsewhere in Vietnam.
On the morning of August 19, thousands of Hanoians flocked to Tay Ho Temple to welcome a new lunar month, following local authorities banning crowds and telling residents to go out only on “essential” business.
“I know about the new outbreak but it’s in Da Nang, Hanoi has only a few cases, no worries,” said Truong Thi Dao, a white-collar worker without a mask praying “to show respect to the Mother Goddess.”
The 48-year-old Hanoian is among a myriad of capital residents to lessen their guard as city officials ramp up efforts to contain the spreading virus.
Vietnam’s Covid-19 tally has risen to 1,007 with 25 deaths. Since local transmission resurfaced in Da Nang late last month, there have been 666 cases, 525 linked to the central city, and 11 in Hanoi.
The faithful wait to enter Tay Ho Temple on the afternoon of August 19, 2020. Photo bn VnExpress/Tung Dinh.
After community transmissions resurfaced in Vietnam, public gatherings have remained popular.
On August 19, the first day Hanoi ordered all customers patronizing restaurants, cafes and pubs to sit one meter apart and have their body temperatures checked by staff, many were seen to simply flout the rules.
At several local tea and coffee shops around Hanoi’s iconic St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a popular gathering spot in town, dozens of young people were sat in close proximity without the protection of masks.
“How can we talk and drink if we sit one meter away from each other and wear masks? There are only a dozen cases in Hanoi, we have shown no symptoms nor came in close contact with any Da Nang returnees,” Hoang Thanh Huong, a university student, lamented while enjoying lemon iced tea with a group of six friends.
In central business hubs near Vu Pham Ham or Phung Hung streets, restaurants have been packed with patrons ignoring social distancing rules and of course, removing their masks while eating and conversing during lunch breaks.
“Jeez, everyone has turned pretty lax, so I think the risks are minor,” Pham Ha, an accountant on Ly Thuong Kiet Street said before heading to a noodle restaurant with her teammates.
For many fitness enthusiasts in the capital, going out for a run or workout remains an integral part of their daily routine.
Each afternoon, dozens of residents, including the elderly who are especially advised to stay inside, flock to Thong Nhat Park to exercise.
“I go to the park to get some fresh air and work out, I cannot stay inside all day and do not have close contact with anyone here,” said Le Van Vinh, 64, adding “no one wears a mask while exercising.”
In the last few days, around Hoan Kiem Lake, many walkers and motorbike taxi drivers have been reprimanded by police for not wearing masks.
“We are totally healthy and have to go out to meet people and make a living,” said Nguyen Thi Le, a lake-side photographer, while sitting and chatting with three other similarly unprotected colleagues.
Pretending there’s no pandemic
Many Hanoians are taking it easy in the absence of a locally imposed social distancing campaign.
“No coffee shops or restaurants are closed, so why should we stay at home?” asked 27-year-old Tran Trong Anh while hanging out with friends at a coffee shop on Quan Thanh Street on August 20.
“No semi-lockdown, no threats,” his friends agreed.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had emphasized that local authorities had to decide on measures to prevent Covid-19 infections and minimize the impacts on people’s lives and socio-economic activities.
Youngsters gather close together at a tea shop while an unmasked driver passes by on Nha Chung Street on August 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Long Nguyen.
“Staying home, wearing a mask all day and no venturing out, I prefer to avoid those. I will be careful, but not in that way,” said photographer Le.
Deputy Director of the Hanoi Center for Disease Control (CDC), Truong Quang Viet, said some locals have become complacent and were ignoring disease prevention measures.
“I am lucky to visit the temple before it gets closed, I come here and pray every month, no matter if it’s in the middle of a pandemic,” Dao said after learning local authority had decided to shut Tay Ho Temple on Wednesday afternoon.