Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality

With vaccinations and masks, foreigners living in HCMC and Hanoi are not too afraid of falling sick with Covid and want a return to normal
October 16, 2021 | 17:08
Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality
A foreign woman at Nguyen Van Binh Book Street in HCMC, which has reopened after months of closure, Oct. 9, 2021. Photo: VNE

At a time when large cities are gradually resuming social and economic activities, foreigners are cautiously getting back to their daily routines.

Charlotte Brown, an Australian living in District 1, HCMC, says she went out walking and shopping and caught up with her friends after months of lockdown.

She visited various places around the city without any fear of being infected since everyone around her was wearing a mask.

Also, security guards at places where she showed up systematically checked people’s temperature and scanned QR codes at the entrance.

To protect herself, Brown wears a mask and sanitizes her hands religiously.

"I am ready to live with the pandemic and do not want it to control my life," she told VNE.

Indian Radhakrishnan MB, also of HCMC, has been as excited as his employees to return to office.

Though a bit wary of possibly spreading the infection, he is not afraid he will fall sick thanks to the vaccination, and plans to return to the gym.

He says he feels a bit sad that many small shops where he used to buy things before have not reopened possibly because of financial difficulties. He also misses the hustle and bustle that existed in the city before the pandemic.

In Hanoi, Fran Araujo, a Spaniard, says he is delighted to go around their building with his "hyperactive" two-year-old. Besides, he is able to again ride his bicycle around the city every morning.

He does not fear contracting Covid since he has had the vaccine and strictly follows safety measures. His one worry is that his family could be quarantined if he tests positive.

Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality
Fran Araujo rides his bike to Ba Vi, Hanoi, in October, 2021. Photo courtesy of Araujo/ via VNE

Hanoi has a low number of new cases now, most of them in isolated areas, Araujo points out.

Though some people are very careful and even wear two masks, most have already started to drop their guard, queuing up at many places and gathering on the street, habits from the past, he says.

"I am just careful and responsible."

Tui Munday, an American woman also living in Hanoi, has been to Thong Nhat Park twice so far after being cooped up indoors for a long time. She went to a shopping mall once but did not enter since it was too crowded. Nonetheless, she does not worry much because she has had one shot of a vaccine.

She is impressed that Vietnamese, even children, keep their mask on most of the time and complain less than westerners.

After weeks of letting food and beverage establishments serve takeaways, Hanoi has allowed on-site dining and reopening of parks, hotels and public transportation starting Thursday.

Restaurants and hotels must function at half their maximum capacity. Owners and their employees must be fully vaccinated, and make sure that customers maintain distances from each other.

Museums and parks must only serve groups of up to 10 people each.

Brown hopes the HCMC government will allow cafes and restaurants to open with safety measures in place because people need social interaction.

Many countries have shown that certain activities could be allowed for vaccinated people, she says and hopes to see the city get back its hustle and bustle this Christmas.

In October HCMC allowed most activities to resume thanks to lower infection and mortality rates though eateries can only sell takeout food unless authorized by competent authorities to offer dine-in services.

In Hanoi, Munday says she badly wants to go and do some grocery shopping as it is not easy to buy everything online and to travel by public transport. She also looks forward to meeting her friends for coffee and drinks.

Araujo says he misses racing and is waiting to ride outside Hanoi.

What most foreigners look forward to even more is convenient travel within the country and internationally.

The country resumed flights on 19 routes including the Hanoi-HCMC route Sunday, on a 11-day trial basis, in which only fully vaccinated people are welcome aboard.

Plans for resuming international flights have not been finalized.

Munday says as a businesswoman she needs to travel to various places in Vietnam, other countries in Asia and the United States for meetings and networking.

But she realizes it will take a bit longer for all that.

Araujo wishes his family can go to Spain to introduce their little daughter to her grandparents.

Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality

Tui Munday is at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, October 2021. Photo courtesy of Munday/ via VNE

International flights are imperative for people to visit their families and for companies that have factories in a number of countries.

Radhakrishnan expects international travel from Vietnam to take around six months to recover. He himself is in no hurry to travel yet since his country, India, has strict quarantine rules.

William Anderson, an American, does not expect the situation in HCMC to improve too quickly either and thinks most people have to work remotely until Tet.

Anderson said many people in HCMC are acting as if the pandemic is over, and this "recklessness" worries him quite a bit. Travel may not recover soon, he fears.

"The key point of international travel is that foreigners can easily come back to Vietnam after visiting their families."

Marvin Contapay, an expat in Ho Chi Minh City, put on sports shoes and walked around his apartment at 5 p.m. on Sept. 27. It was the first time he jogged outside after nearly four months of staying inside.

"Today is my first outdoor exercise," said Contapay, a Filipino English teacher. "It's nice to see signs of normal life," he said.

Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality
Children in a park in HCMC. Photo: VNE

District 7, Cu Chi, and Can Gio were the first three districts of Ho Chi Minh City to relax social distancing according to the city's roadmap from Sept. 16. The districts have allowed people to go to supermarkets, wet markets, or essential services. In Tan Phu and Tan Phong wards of District 7, people who have been fully vaccinated are allowed to take up outdoor exercise. For Marvin Contapay, these changes are a "gift of gold."

"Living during a pandemic is not easy, especially for foreigners," said Marvin, who has been in Vietnam since 2018.

During social distancing between Ho Chi Minh City, the Filipino man faced many difficulties. His English center was temporarily closed, leaving him with insecurities.

Over the past several months, he has only gone out a few times to go to the supermarket and get vaccinated.

"Most of the shops have not yet open and the streets are not very crowded. But we are grateful that the pace of life is slowly returning to normal. At least we are able to breathe in the fresh air to ease our boredom," he said.

Expats Long for Quick Return to Normality
GrabCar drivers join forces to transport Covid-19 patients in HCMC, August 2021. Photo courtesy of Grab/ via VNE

Meanwhile, many Saigonese are reportedly thrilled to witness the city’s gradual return to its usual hustle and bustle after the four-month lockdown, though some are gingerly tiptoeing toward normality.

HCMC, epicenter of Vietnam's latest Covid-19 wave, started reopening its socio-economic activities from Oct. 1 after spending four months under various levels of social distancing.

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