For the last two months, we have been living our day-to-day life very much like we were not in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not because we are defying common sense, but because Vietnam was COVID-free. There had been zero cases of community transmission for 100 days. This allowed all of the locals, including us, to relax. With the borders closed and no transmission happening, Vietnam had essentially eliminated the Coronavirus. This meant everyone could resume living mostly normal lives. That was until another infection cluster popped up out of nowhere to burst our worry-free bubble.
We are currently renting an apartment in Danang near the beach, and over the last month our neighborhood had been hopping with activity. Vietnamese from Hanoi and Saigon poured in to take advantage of travel deals and the world class beach. We saw multiple tour buses dropping off full loads of people at local hotels everyday. Restaurants have been packed. The beach filled every evening with Vietnamese vacationers and Danang locals alike. Even the ocean motorsport activities like parasailing were back. A sense of normalcy returned.
Katie and I had relaxed our precautions as well. We had visited a couple of restaurants. We no longer felt any need to maintain social distancing measures. Taking our cue from local workers, we even started shopping without masks in some of our neighborhood stores. With borders closed and no transmission for months, daily life was reasonably similar to before the pandemic. And then with little warning, the highly infectious disease resurfaced.
The first reappearance was with a local Danang resident who had not traveled. Blame is being placed on Chinese illegal immigrants, but of course it’s fashionable to blame China in regards to anything to do with COVID-19 at the moment. Medical authorities determined that it’s a different, more infectious strain than was originally extinguished months ago. That points to it entering from outside of the borders, but no one really knows how it happened. What we do know is that Danang is now the new COVID-19 hotspot in Vietnam. (For reference, this has a different meaning than in the US, as the number of cases causing a hotspot here is around 80.)
The hospital that treated the reemergence was immediately quarantined. The government ordered the local tourists in Danang to return to their homes and helped orchestrate their immediate departure. They cancelled all other flights, trains, and buses in and out of the city for the next two weeks. Beaches, parks, and other gathering areas were roped off. Bars and coffee shops were closed. Masks were once again mandated when in public. The Vietnamese authorities took swift action after the first case was discovered, but the virus moved faster.
After a few days, and some more positive tests, it was then decided that the city needed to re-enter full lockdown mode. All non-essential businesses were ordered to close. Restaurants aren’t even allowed to offer takeout. Leaving the house is prohibited except for the purpose of going to the grocery store or pharmacy. And in order to enter these stores, a normal body temperature reading and a squirt of hand sanitizer is required. The widespread stay at home order is scheduled for two weeks in an attempt to squash the spread like before.
The international media picked up the order for local tourists to leave, added some clickbait wording, and made headlines like “80,000 tourists ordered to evacuate Danang”. This prompted some outreach from our friends wanting to know if we were being forced to evacuate. Don’t worry, no one is kicking us out. Since this is our only home, we’re free to stay. They just wanted all of the locals that have been swarming the beaches to return home and self-quarantine.
As evident by the number of tourists that descended upon our neighborhood in Danang prior to the virus resurfacing, travel within Vietnam was commonplace again. As I mentioned in my last post, we were discussing taking advantage of this to go on a vacation. We were considering going back to Hoi An or up to Hue for a few days. We were also kicking around the idea of leaving Danang and moving to Saigon in order to change things up and give us new things to do. Basically, we were making plans under the assumption that Vietnam would continue to stay COVID-free and we would continue to have the freedom of a more normal existence.
Now a few days into our second lockdown, we have been quickly disabused of that notion. The global pandemic had begun to feel far away. It was something that was happening on the other side of the world, not here. Probably not too dissimilar to how most Americans felt at the beginning of this outbreak. But just like for them, it’s all too real all of a sudden. We’ve shelved our plans to travel nearby and decided to continue staying in Danang with our luxuries for the foreseeable future.
Luckily, all of the local populace takes this very seriously. People stay home. They wear masks and wash their hands often when out. They listen to the scientists and know that these actions work because they’ve already witnessed the effectiveness. After quelling the initial virus outbreak three months ago, they are taking the steps to do it again. With everyone’s cooperation, I’m hopeful this lockdown only lasts the scheduled two weeks. But I’m prepared for longer, as it’s painfully evident that the virus does not care about anyone’s plans. Our COVID-free bubble was nice while it lasted. I look forward to becoming complacent again at some point in the future.