People in Vietnam are beginning to resume activities that were banned for more than three weeks following an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As the sun rose in the sky Friday, a glass noodle vendor smiled because she could finally admit customers again. Elsewhere, a group of friends took advantage of the lifting of restrictions to go to the tennis courts and play.
Like the lime green tennis balls that had been sitting idly, gathering dust, most Vietnamese were stuck indoors since April 1, the start of a national lockdown to stem the spread of the virus. There have been no reported deaths from the virus, no new cases since April 16, and a total of 268 infections, prompting the Southeast Asian nation to lift the lockdown for most residents on Thursday.
Now that employees are returning to offices, officials say the transition will be gradual and limited to stave off the resurgence of a virus that has been unpredictable.
Restrictions include fines for people who do not wear masks outside, a maximum of 20 people in any gathering, and continued closures for some businesses such as bars.
Salons, zoos, festivals and other businesses deemed to be entertainment or luxuries remain closed as well. Beyond those sectors, other businesses are not sure how they are categorized, so they are waiting for the green light from authorities to resume operations.
“We need to learn to adapt to live with the pandemic,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said.
“We must not let it destroy our economy or our country. We need to put our people’s lives first and continue to take drastic measures to control the disease.”
He urged citizens not to go out to celebrate, as Vietnam is not declaring victory against the virus. Instead the communist nation is moving toward a model it calls "live together safely," letting people go back to work but with continued precautions such as social distancing of two meters and regular handwashing.
Experts around the world, including Johns Hopkins University lecturer Supriya Munshaw, say it will probably take more than a year to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, increasing the odds that nations will have to find ways to reopen their economies while living with the virus.
Domestic flights in Vietnam are picking up again and a handful of provinces will reopen grade schools this month. Each local government is working on an action plan for economic recovery. Officials in the country’s capital, Hanoi, say they will simplify business loan applications and form task forces to coordinate logistics to ensure food and supplies remain available.
Only a small handful of other nations that shut down their economies because of the coronavirus pandemic have begun to reopen, including South Korea and Germany, which both kept death tolls low through early and wide testing.
Vietnam's Bac Ninh and Ha Giang provinces, as well as parts of Hanoi, remain in lockdown. In areas that are reopening, authorities are enacting restrictions, such as reduced bus service between provinces and health checks for those who enter their boundaries.
Leaders keep reminding Vietnamese to be careful and to not become complacent.
“This is a new disease, with no drug cure yet, appearing for the first time in the world,” said Nguyen Thanh Phong, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee. “Everything is new, strange and unprecedented. There just has to be one wrong step, and that would be very costly.”