VUNG TAU, Vietnam (AP) – I wake up when the speaker outside my window starts the community broadcast at. 7, I try to remember the date. Vietnam’s pandemic lockdown has been so long that I’ve lost my sense of time. I now count with weeks.
This is the ninth I have been stuck in Vung Tau, a seaside resort more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) from my home in Hanoi.
I get out of bed and stick to my yoga routine before breakfast. As I roll out the mat, the broadcast broadcasts the latest pandemic news and blows a propaganda-style song: “Citizens, let’s join this fight so COVID disappears …”
I came to Vung Tau for a long weekend to see my partner in mid-July.
In normal times, it is full of holidaymakers fleeing cities for fresh air, sunshine and delicious seafood.
When I started my travels, a new outbreak occurred in Vietnam, but I was sure – and I think the country was convinced – that it would be able to stop it quickly, just as it had in the past. By then, Vietnam had reported well over 8,000 cases and 35 virus deaths and won global praise for its pandemic success.
The advent of the Delta variant changed everything.
The tribe spread like wildfire through factories in industrial areas, into markets and on to communities across the country. In Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest with 10 million people, authorities ordered a lockdown throughout the city. Soon it was expanded to include the entire southern region, which houses more than a third of the country’s 98 million people.
Interprovincial public transportation was halted, and flights from Ho Chi Minh City were suspended, including my return trip. I was stranded in Vung Tau when the city announced its first COVID-19 case ever.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at first.
I was positive the situation would be under control quickly; that I just had to wait with two weeks of lockdown and things would get normal again. It seemed like a chance to slow down and enjoy the time with my partner.
I took an avocado seed from a recent lunch, wrapped it in a damp paper towel and put it in a bag to see if it would germinate before the lockdown ended.
More than half of Vietnam’s population is currently locked up.
New daily cases have exceeded 10,000 and deaths are reported in the hundreds. Of Vietnam’s nearly 16,000 deaths in COVID-19, more than 99% have come in this latest wave.
The government tightened the restrictions further this month, asking people to “stay where you are” to buy time to vaccinate more people.
Barricades and checkpoints were set up to ensure that people could not take to the streets unless they had a permit. In some communities, authorities locked the gates of every household.
Under the restrictions, people must stay at home except for those who work in a handful of companies that are classified as essential services. In high-risk areas, the Army has been mobilized to provide food and basic necessities to every household. In areas at lower risk, such as where I am, each family is allowed to go out to buy food and medicine once a week in their small neighborhood.
This week, the government said it was speeding up its vaccination program. Over the weekend, more than 1 million shots were fired in Hanoi alone, and authorities aimed to have 100% of the eligible residents with at least one shot by the end of the week.
Nevertheless, the overall vaccination rate is still low, with only 4% receiving two shots.
Vung Tau extended its lockdown for the sixth time over the weekend, adding another two weeks.
The lockdown day is long, and the longer it lasts, the longer it pulls.
Every time I feel frustrated, I comfort myself from my balcony by thinking about how lucky and privileged I am not to have to use the lockdown in far less comfortable conditions as millions of my countrymen lay together in small, air-conditioned apartments. summer heat.
To avoid depression, I try to fill the days with other activities besides work. I binge Netflix with my partner who I have never been together for so long in the last seven years. I spend more time learning my partner’s native French. I follow training on YouTube and make up for the interruption of my marathon training.
Before this wave, I felt that the pandemic was somewhere else. I did not know anyone who infected the virus in Vietnam.
But bad news began to rush in: One of my friends got it along with four others in her family. Three of them were moved to three different hospitals, while two remained at home due to their mild symptoms. On my Facebook feed, some changed their profile to black to mourn a lost loved one. The pandemic had become real to me.
I video chat almost every day with my parents who are in their 70s.
It worries me that the virus has entered their Hanoi street; their neighbors were the latest cases, and their alley was cordoned off with a signposted “pandemic area.” I breathed a sigh of relief when they finally got their first vaccine shot two weeks ago.
I also have a family group chat, including my three siblings and five nieces and nephews. We are very close and are used to seeing each other often. We have not been able to meet since lockdown.
On marathon runs, there is a finish line, a goal that helps keep me going. With the lockdown extended over and over again, it’s hard to imagine when it might end. But without it, who knows what the death toll could be.
Currently, I am trying to seek comfort in simpler things.
My avocado seed has germinated and has grown tall, faster than others I have germinated before.
I keep a lot of plants in Hanoi. Unfortunately, many must be dead now.
I was not going to be away that long.