Expat Diary: What is Life Like in Vietnam During Lockdown?

Wendy Justice, IL Southeast Asia Correspondent

What is Daily Life Like at the Moment in Vietnam?

Hanoi is a popular city for tourism, so it’s been quite an adjustment to see so few foreigners here in recent weeks. No visas are being issued, and other than a few diplomats and essential workers, the border is now closed to immigration, though it’s still possible to find an international flight out. Anyone entering the country for any reason has to undergo COVID-19 testing and comply with a 14-day mandatory quarantine.

Wearing a facemask in any crowded place like a supermarket, for example—is required; fortunately, they are readily available. Volunteers pass out free surgical facemasks on the streets, in bus terminals, and in many congested areas.

Although Hanoi is not under mandatory lockdown yet, the government has requested that we practice social distancing and avoid going out for any non-essential purpose. Over 60s have been told to stay at home. Restaurants and non-essential businesses are now closed. This has certainly affected our daily life, which was filled with socializing.

How is Vietnam Prepared for Coronavirus?

Vietnam, along with several other Asian countries, had already gained valuable experience from dealing with the 2003 SARS epidemic. When COVID-19 came here, the government had a plan in place almost immediately. Within a week of the first COVID-19 case, Vietnam began building quarantine facilities and hospitals, and drastically increased production of facemasks and other personal protection equipment. They quickly developed an inexpensive, accurate test kit and have such an abundance that they are exporting them to European countries, from Finland to Ukraine. So far, there has been no community spread.

If a local or foreigner is suspected of having the virus, there is no charge for either the test or the mandatory quarantine. If the result is positive, we pay only for our treatment, though it is free to Vietnamese. We have travel insurance that covers those expenses should it happen.

How is Your Community Working Together?

Hanoians have long embraced the idea of community and they go out of their way to support one another. Being charitable and considerate of others has deep roots in this society. As long-term residents in our neighborhood, we are a part of this community. We all look out for one another. In quarantined areas, the government, private businesses, and generous individuals pass out bags of fresh food to residents every day at no charge. Social expectations are a part of life here—the idea is that we’re all in this together, and that this is a war that we must (and will!) win.

Can you go to the Store?

Supermarkets and traditional markets, where we pick up staples, fresh vegetables, and fruit, are still open. There has been almost no panic buying. Hand sanitizer is cheap and found wherever you go.

Is Public Transport Still Running?

We can take a bus or taxi as long as we wear a facemask; fortunately, we have our own transportation and choose not to venture far from home.

How are you Passing the Time?

Staying at home has given me the opportunity to take care of some past due projects around the house—spring cleaning, writing social emails, and catching up on my reading.

How are you Communicating with People?

I’m spending more time on Facebook, which isn’t necessarily a good thing but does keep me in touch with my far-flung network of friends. I use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to stay in touch with my friends, though Skype still seems to be the most widely used app for my contacts in the U.S.

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