Tran Quy Cap Street in downtown Hanoi has been deserted since late August. There are no vehicles or shops.
Several Covid-19 patients had been detected in the area and authorities decided to put two wards in Dong Da District under lockdown.
Some people, wearing masks and face shields, stand on their balconies and look over the quiet street, which has been sealed off with barricades and barbed wire.
Volunteers wearing protective clothes visit each household to give them food and groceries under pouring rain on a Tuesday afternoon.
All doors are shut, many houses are cordoned off with red tape and there are signs telling people not to gather.
With new Covid cases detected recently, residents have no idea when they can go out for food or just some fresh air in the mornings.
The 21,000 people in Van Chuong and Van Mieu wards are among many in the capital facing enormous difficulties and inconvenience due to lockdowns and the citywide social distancing, which has been extended three times .
Barricades are installed on Nguyen Khuyen Street after Hanoi puts Van Chuong and Van Mieu wards in Dong Da District under lockdown, August 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet of Gia Lam District is unable to travel to Ba Dinh District in the city center, currently deemed a 'high risk' area, to visit her mother, who was discharged from hospital last month.
She says: “I cannot apply for a travel permit because my mother is no longer in the hospital and I cannot prove I am going take care of a patient.
“This has stressed me out.”
She tried to go to Ba Dinh last week but was told to return at a checkpoint because she did not have travel permits.
Many people have their plans derailed. After returning from the U.K. with her husband in July, Tran Thanh Lan had expected to start a new life by moving into their new apartment in Long Bien District.
But amid the restrictions, the developer has been unable to finish the construction, and An and her husband have had to rent a house.
“Our apartment is almost done, but the workers are in Cau Giay District and they cannot travel to Long Bien due to travel restrictions, so we have no idea when we can move in,” she says.
Informal workers and business owners bear the brunt of the economic hardship caused by the prolonged lockdown.
“The coronavirus and this lockdown are eating up my savings,” Nguyen Khanh Ly, owner of a spa in Hoan Kiem District, says.
“I have been closed since late July and earned nothing.”
For the last few weeks Ly and her husband have remained at home, unable to get a permit to travel to Hoan Kiem to open the spa, which is not considered 'essential'.
Many migrant workers are financially exhausted.
In a cramped house in Long Bien District, a group of construction workers have been jobless and survived the semi-lockdown with food provided by their neighbors.
“If I work 30 days, I can earn VND6 million ($263.51),” Le Trong Thanh from the northern Ha Nam Province says.
“But I have not gone to work for more than 40 days.”
He lives with six other workers, and says they have had no money to buy food since the week after the lockdown began, and had to seek help from neighbors and kind people online.
“I hope things get better, so that we can continue to work at a house in Hai Ba Trung District and earn an income.”
Hanoians, especially the elderly, have had their health negatively affected by the lockdown and fears over coronavirus.
La Thi Huong of Chuong Duong Ward in Hoan Kiem District missed her monthly health check at the National Hospital of Endrocrinology last month as her neighborhood was locked down since July 31.
“I hope it (the lockdown) will end this month so I can have my checkup” the 74-year-old diabetes patient says.
The lockdown in her ward was partially lifted on Sept. 8 after many neighborhoods went 21 days without a Covid case.
The siege has taken a mental toll on many people, especially as they stay confined within the four walls of their homes.
“For nearly three weeks, the only journey I make every day is to the balcony,” Nguyen Xuan Huong of Van Mieu Ward in Dong Da District says.
“The idea of getting stranded and and being unable to earn money is killing me.”
The hairdresser at a salon in Hoan Kiem District has to raise a child and is anxious and unable to sleep at night.
A report in August by the University of Social Sciences and Humanities' psychology faculty said people have been experiencing anxiety, stress, boredom, mood swings, and insomnia due to the social distancing.
Overlooking deserted streets, Hanoi’s tiny balconies have become places of refuge for the city’s locked-down residents. Photo by AFP
Walking on thin ice
However, despite their struggles, many people believe the stringent social distancing requirements are inevitable if the city is to bring the raging pandemic under control amid the low vaccination rates.
There have been a series of social distancing mandates since late July, which has slowed down the pace of infection but not curtailed it.
Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, said new infections are still being recorded because some asymptomatic carriers of the virus are spreading it without knowing.
Khong Minh Tuan, deputy director of the Hanoi CDC, said since the sources of infection are unknown, it is difficult to contain the disease.
The city has had six major clusters in Hoang Mai, Ba Dinh, Dong Da, Thanh Xuan , and Dan Phuong districts, with 3,928 cases in the current outbreak.
This worries many people, who think reopening the city now poses a danger.
“I hate being stranded at home, but I am afraid that people will rush out into the streets for coffee and dining out after months of lockdowns,” Lan says.
“I would rather face inconvenience than coronavirus risks.”
The Ministry of Health this week urged the capital to speed up vaccination since it remains among the 10 localities with the lowest immunization rates in the country.
Kieu Trinh off Sai Dong Ward in Long Bien District says: “I signed up with local ward officials in late July. So far I have not seen any notice of vaccination schedules.”
The 56-year-old admits she is anxious and will never leave her house until she is vaccinated.
Hanoi has so far vaccinated 3.5 million people or 39.3 percent of its population aged over 18. Of them, 555,800 have received two shots.
Lan, a teacher at a local school, has to lock herself in her bedroom to teach online while her husband, also a teacher, teaches from another room.
“I was in a lockdown in the U.K. for months, and now another lockdown here in my hometown. I am disheartened I have to teach students I have never met in person, and have no idea when I can see them.”
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