Nguyen Thi Anh had a very unusual return to work in Hanoi's Long Bien District on February 17.
Instead of partying with her colleagues and going to Buddhist pagodas on the first working day of the Lunar New Year as she used to, Anh remained in her office, donning her face mask. As soon as working hours were over, she returned home.
“Last year we had a party and exchanged li xi (lucky money) with other people, but this year, we just smiled at each other through face masks, and there will be no gatherings or festive activities,” Anh said.
She also did not hang out with her sister's family the same day, which was “unprecedented,” she added
The 28-year-old accountant is among many residents in Hanoi who have tiptoed into their post- Tet lives, which are normally marked with pilgrimages and mini-celebrations with colleagues and friends that follow up on the traditional ones at home.
The latest Covid-19 outbreak has put a stop to all such plans. In the last three weeks, Vietnam has recorded 755 Covid-19 community transmissions in 13 localities. In Hai Duong, currently Vietnam's Covid-19 epicenter located just 60 kilometers from Hanoi, health authorities are saying the situation is unpredictable and could last longer than expected.
A woman wearing a mask walks by the Hoan Kiem Lake, March, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai.
Nguyen Cao Thien, a banker in Tay Ho District, said his managers have banned staff from meetings and coming into close contact with each other after returning to work on February 17.
“Our li xi (lucky money) game was virtual, as everyone used e-wallet applications to receive and send their lucky money,” Thien said.
As people might have traveled to many places during their holiday, many firms, wary of Covid-19 infection risks among their employees, have required strict adoption of protective measures.
Some companies have told their staff to work from home until the outbreak is under control.
“There will be no New Year party or trips to local pagodas this year; please work remotely and limit meeting people until further notice,” a paper-producing company in Hanoi's Long Bien District informed its white collar workers this week.
Even among traditional Tet pilgrims, the practice of going to pagodas and temples has been limited because many of these places in Hanoi have been closed as a containment measure.
Le Xuan Kieu, Director of Centre for Scientific and Cultural Activities of the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, said the site has strictly followed Covid-19 preventive measures and required all guests to wear face masks, but the number of visitors during Tet dropped considerably anyway.
Many residents, wary of infection risks, have also avoided going to local restaurants for their usual New Year celebrations after the holiday. As a result, several eateries in Hanoi, usually very crowded at this time, have been deserted after Tet .
The current situation has delivered a tough New Year start for many businesses, especially in the food and beverages and service sectors.
Nguyen Thi Hoa, owner of a hotpot restaurant on Hong Tien Street, decided to delay reopening her business after Tet .
“Even I open it, no patrons would come during this pandemic. And I am afraid to come into close contact with them too; who knows where they'd been or who they'd talked to during Tet.”
With millions of students and thousands of employees allowed to study and work remotely after Tet , many have opted to stay back in their hometown instead of rushing back to the capital city as the number of new Covid-19 cases has kept rising in the last few days.
“Traveling on buses is risky because the new virus variant is dangerous, so we will stay here until we are required to go to our offices,” said Nguyen Quang Dinh, 42, who has stayed in his parents' house in northern Ha Nam Province with his wife and children.
“We must tiptoe to our normal lives in Hanoi, because the virus could be everywhere,” Dinh said.
On the last day of the holiday (February 16), several bus stations in Hanoi were unprecedentedly quiet, with many buses carrying just around 50 percent of their passenger capacity.
Nha Chung Street in downtown Hoan Kiem District is devoid of people on the first day of the Lunar New Year, February 12, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Ly Truong Son, Director of My Dinh Bus Terminal, said the number of passengers on the last day of the Tet holiday was less than even normal days despite the terminal strictly following all Covid-19 preventive measures.
The local transportation authority requires all bus companies to record their patrons’ information to enable contact tracing.
Despite the usual restrictions on travel and gatherings, the most prominent reason forcing people to refrain from the usual post- Tet festivities is the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in its latest outbreak.
In fact, the usual massive migration away from cities for the Tet holiday could have increased the possibility of the novel coronavirus spreading in the country.
Hanoi has required tourism spots, coffee shops and street eateries to close starting February 16. Restaurants are allowed to open as long as they maintain social distancing rules and disinfect spaces.
Accountant Anh said she has accepted the situation and is hopeful things will change. As she helped her 6-year-old son with his math homework from an online class, she said: “Hunker down and wait for good news. This is all I want to do until I can be at ease about enjoying New Year parties or trips with my loved ones.”
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