After two months, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee has finally allowed the gradual resumption of commercial activities in the city, including food deliveries. Authorities greenlit the reopening of food and beverage services, IT shops, as well as office and school supply stores.
For Hanh, who has been stuck with her boiled egg-bread-instant noodles routine since July, the announcement was welcome news. She lives in a small apartment in Go Vap, with her kitchenware sharing a space with her books and laptop. “Cooking a full meal with vegetables and meat is impossible inside this tiny room,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming of eating ‘real’ food again.”
Authorities will only allow online delivery services from 6 am to 6pm. Grocery stores, supermarkets and pharmacies are now also permitted to reopen from 6 am to 9 pm. All businesses can only take and deliver orders from within the same district.
But for Jean, who lives in a narrow alley in Huynh Tan Phat Street, such a “rash” decision by the city government may only worsen the outbreak. “I don’t think Saigon is ready to reopen yet. I also want to go out again and breathe fresh air, but I also know that the cases in the city are increasing daily.”
As of September 8, Ho Chi Minh City has recorded 273,154 cases, nearly 50% of the total COVID-19 cases accumulated since April 27, when the fourth outbreak began. Vietnam currently has 559,347 confirmed cases.
Many areas in the city remain at “high-risk,” with infections in the community growing by the day.
At a recent press conference, the secretary of the city's Party Committee Nguyen Van Nen said, “Based on the current pandemic situation, we can neither have zero community cases nor strict lockdown measures forever. The city must gradually open up the economy and find ways to live safely with the virus.”
Officials said that since the coronavirus can’t be eliminated completely anytime soon despite stringent measures, people need to learn to live with and go about their “new normal” routine. This is the only way HCMC, the commercial capital of Vietnam, can bounce back.
Aside from the resumption of food deliveries, authorities are also planning to pilot plans for locals in District 7 and Cu Chi — areas that have declared the outbreak under control — to go to the market once every week.
Also on the resumption list are producers and traders of herbal materials, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and supplies.
A worker at a Thai restaurant in District 7 said HCMC’s announcement to reopen F&B establishments came as a surprise. The restaurant had been closed since July; and while they’re happy that they can finally get back into business, opening their doors for operation may not happen immediately.
“We were told that it will take about a week before we can go to work and start accepting orders because of the requirements and permits that need to be arranged first.”
According to a government mandate, catering service providers need to register their resumption for local authorities to validate travel passes for employees. All workers also need to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and must be tested for the virus every two days.
Moreover, once operation starts, companies need to follow the “three on the spot” model, where workers work, eat and rest within one place to ensure that they have no physical contact with other people outside of the workplace.
The three on the spot is just one of the four working models suggested by the government as effective ways to resume economic activities in hard-hit localities like HCMC.
But having employees work, eat and rest in one place - inside the restaurant for example - comes at an additional cost for employers. Sleeping mats or tents need to be provided, as well as proper shower and toilet facilities. Employers also need to shoulder expenses for the regular COVID tests, and will bear responsibility should any of the workers test positive.
Beyond these concerns, many vendors are also wary about the availability of fair-priced ingredients and other supplies they will need to be fully operational again. With the limitations set in deliveries, moving supplies like vegetables from provinces to HCMC have become a major problem.
The cost of getting supplies has significantly increased because they now need to undergo different levels of inspections, plus the fact that delivery trucks can’t go in and out of districts easily.
“I think it’s more expensive to go back to business than to just stay closed for now and wait for everything to get better completely,” said the restaurant worker.
The city government has yet to issue more guidelines on the resumption of businesses, and how the city will assist businesses in this crucial transition.