2021-10-06 03:50:08 Fears of COVID surge in Vietnam as workers flee Ho Chi Minh City | News
Fears of COVID surge in Vietnam as workers flee Ho Chi Minh City | News
Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City – Tens of thousands of Vietnamese who once worked in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s COVID-19 epicenter, are fleeing to their home provinces in desperation after authorities lifted a strict stay-at-home order last week, raising fears that the highly infectious Delta variant will spread in areas where vaccination rates are still low.
The mass exodus, which began on Friday, has left local officials in the Mekong Delta region and the Central Highlands scrambling to track and quarantine the returnees, many of whom had endured months of lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding provinces without work or adequate food.
According to the Zing News website, at least 200 positive cases have been discovered among the 160,000 people who have returned to their home provinces.
“The flood of people returning home at this time is extremely difficult for our province to handle,” said Nguyen Than Binh, a local official in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang.
“We have worked nonstop for the past three days to receive, screen, test, and provide food and lodging for people,” he said. “Because people ride motorcycles all day and night, and it rains, those on duty must buy raincoats for everyone.” We are also providing dumplings, bread, and drinking water to quench their thirst and hunger.”
Only half of the 30,000 people who arrived in An Giang by motorcycle have been tested so far, he claims. 44 tests were found to be positive.
Since authorities eased a strict lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding provinces, at least 160,000 people have fled.
The influx of people has so overwhelmed local authorities’ ability to screen returnees for COVID-19 that at least two provinces in the Mekong Delta region – Soc Trang and Hau Giang – have requested that departures from Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding areas be halted.
Fearing an increase in cases, the province of Ca Mau halted plans to loosen COVID-19 curbs on Monday, instructing residents to go outside only when absolutely necessary.
‘We’re afraid of dying here.’
This was not supposed to happen.
Authorities did not allow travel between provinces when they lifted the strict stay-at-home order in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding provinces of Long An, Binh Duong, and Dong Nai, which are Vietnam’s economic powerhouses and home to approximately 3.5 million migrant workers.
However, after months of lockdown, the last weeks of which people were not allowed to leave their homes even for food, many migrant workers were desperate to return home.
When the stay-at-home order was lifted on Friday, chaotic scenes erupted at the city’s checkpoints. One video from that day showed migrant workers on their knees, offering incense to security forces in the traditional way Vietnamese pray to their ancestors, pleading with the soldiers to allow them to leave the city.
“You’re afraid your boss will scold you for letting us go, but we’re afraid of dying here,” a woman was overheard saying.
Thousands of people on motorbikes crowded together at another checkpoint on the city’s southwestern outskirts in Binh Chanh District early Friday morning, and children slept on the side of the road as they waited to be let through.
“I haven’t had anything to eat, and all I’ve been eating lately are instant noodles,” Lang Thi Thanh, one of the men waiting at the checkpoint, told a Vietnamese film crew. “I worked as a bricklayer and have been out of work for four months.” I didn’t have any money for food.”
Another woman, Tran Thi Thanh, stated that she did not know how to survive in Ho Chi Minh City any longer.
“I’m still in debt for 40 million Vietnamese Dong [$1,762], and I can’t afford food.” ‘Can you tell me how I can stay?’ “All I want right now is to go home,” she said.
As dawn approached and security forces refused to let the workers pass, scuffles erupted and people threw rocks at the barricades that prevented them from leaving the city.
“They broke the barrier between Ho Chi Minh City and Long An Province to return home after four months of starvation here,” Nguyen Thao, a 32-year-old Ho Chi Minh City resident, told Al Jazeera. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.” People would not be so aggressive if they were not pushed to the brink of death… I believe they must break the rule in order to survive at this time.”
On Saturday, similar scenes occurred in the neighboring province of Bin Duong, where a video showed crowds in a standoff with police in riot gear.
Long journey back home
In the midst of the chaos, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City changed their stance and allowed people to leave, but they required returnees to be tested and quarantined upon their return. While authorities continue to urge people not to leave “unsupervised,” 113 buses were organized on Saturday to transport 8,000 migrants home. On Tuesday, police in neighboring Dong Nai province escorted 14,000 people on motorcycles out of the region.
Tens of thousands of others, on the other hand, have returned unsupervised.
Images published in local media on Sunday showed exhausted travelers resting on piles of bricks and on the ground while awaiting processing at an isolation facility in Dak Lak Province’s mountainous Dak Lak Province. Other images from Tuesday show a large number of people riding their motorcycles through the rain for thousands of kilometers with their luggage strapped to the back.
Some people even attempted to walk home.
On Sunday, Yeah TV, a local television channel, shared a photo on Facebook of a man walking along a highway while pushing a stroller carrying his two small children. According to the channel, the man began his journey in Dong Nai and would walk for 39 hours to his home in Tra Vinh province.
Analysts and humanitarians blame the Vietnamese government for the upheaval.
They claim that the authorities failed to provide adequate assistance to migrant workers in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding areas during the months-long restrictions, which began in late June and were ramped up to a near-total ban on leaving homes on August 23.
To enforce the ban, 130,000 troops were deployed to the city, and more than 300 barricades – some with barbed wire – were erected to prevent people from moving between districts.
“The government’s assistance was insufficient. “It was never enough,” Ha Hoang Hop, a senior fellow in the Vietnamese Studies programme at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told Al Jazeera. “[They left] because they had lost their jobs and had no other options.”
Some people were unable to find enough food.
“People had very glum expressions,” said Ngo Thi Bich Huyen of Saigon Children’s Charity to Al Jazeera. “They had no money to eat and no money to pay their room rent, and their children had no milk to drink.” They could only rely on a few vegetables, rice, or food from the church or charities.”
The ordeal continues.
The lifting of the lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, which resulted in 99 percent of the city’s adult population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and 60 percent receiving both doses, and the departure of the migrant workers do not end their ordeal.
Despite the fact that many returnees have received at least one vaccination, Ho Chi Minh City continues to see thousands of new cases every day; on Monday, the city reported 2,490 positive cases and 93 deaths, compared to the COVID-19 one-day peak of 8,499 infections and more than 200 deaths in early September.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates in the provinces where migrant workers are returning are low.
In the provinces with the highest proportions of returnees – An Giang, Kien Giang, Dak Lak, and Soc Trang – vaccination rates for those who have received one dose range from 13.7 percent in Dak Lak to 41.8 percent in Kien Giang. Soc Trang has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated people, at 4.7 percent, while An Giang has the highest, at 8 percent.
Vietnam has a limited supply of vaccines, so its vaccination campaign has focused on major cities, including the hard-hit Ho Chi Minh City. As a result, only 10.9 million people in the country have received full vaccinations, accounting for slightly more than 11 percent of the total population.
Fearing that the returnees will fuel Delta outbreaks, local authorities have asked the workers to pay for their time in isolation, but many say they cannot afford it after going months without a paycheck.
“At the moment, all of the elementary and high schools are being converted into makeshift dorms,” a Vietnamese economist who requested anonymity told Al Jazeera. “If they have received at least one vaccine shot and two PCR tests, these inter-province emigrants must still pay 80,000VND [$3.50] per day for seven days of quarantine.”
Each PCR test costs 700,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $30.
“You must be quarantined for 14 days out of your own pocket,” he explained. “Many will be unable to pay.”
Huyen, a charity worker from Saigon Children’s Charity, assisted a family during the lockdown, and they are among those struggling with the cost of tests and quarantine after leaving Ho Chi Minh City.
The five-member family lived near Huyen’s house in the city’s Go Vap District, but when she went to see them at the end of September, they were gone.
“I called him and asked him, ‘Where are you?'” “I asked him where he went, and he said, ‘I ran out of money and couldn’t pay the rent for the room, so I had to go back,'” Huyen explained.
The family is now in quarantine in Can Tho, Mekong Delta region, where the man she spoke with is concerned about how to pay the quarantine fee while also providing for his family.
“His family needs to be isolated for 14 days, but he’s also worried about how he’ll pay the money because he told me he needs to pay 80,000 for one day for one person,” she explained.
“It’s difficult because he still needs money to buy food for his children.”
“It’s a heartbreaking story.”