When this article is in your hand, HCMC has been halfway through its latest citywide social distancing time. This is the second time Saigonese have experienced such a lockdown. Sympathy and sharing are what city dwellers need to come back to the new normal life during this time of “new abnormal.”
Compared with the first order imposed last year, this time the municipal government has had to weigh pros and cons carefully before making the final decision.
A Japanese story
The current exponential growth of Covid-19 infections in HCMC reminds me of the pandemic peaks in Japan, which happened around the same time last year.
To contain the widespread infection of the Coronavirus, after many times of careful scrutiny and consideration of the pandemic containment on the one hand and business operation and the people’s freedom on the other, the Japanese Government imposed and maintained the state of emergency during a rather long period of time. When the number of infections declined, the number of lockdown locations and warning levels were lowered. However, the state of emergency was not hastily lifted by the Japanese authorities.
Japan has a distinctive legal feature in this regard, which is the fact that despite the state of emergency, Japanese are still free to move around and crowds of people are still seen in one place or another. In truth, the state of emergency in Japan relates essentially to warnings of the authorities.
The above situation is ascribable to legal reasons originating from history, which are arguably worries arising after World War II. It involved the then features that forced the Japanese institution to create binds which respect personal freedom. Although Japan is already in the state of emergency, the situation is implemented mostly by requests in the form of warnings. For instance, the requisition of private assets has been carried out with great care, which is subject to a decision by the chief of a province.
Despite all that, the combat against pandemics depends more upon political decisions than upon legal stipulations. In the unfavorable conditions of a pandemic, normalcy may be bypassed. According to an expert in the Japanese history and legal system, the then Prime Minister of Japan, Abe Shinzo, might have in his hand an effective legal tool if he had enough political will and motive for submitting a special bill to Japanese lawmakers.
In reality, when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami attacked Japan, an order which compelled all Japanese to stay 20 kilometers away from the nuclear reactors was imposed in this way. However, it is different when it comes to the current pandemic. The Japanese Government has opted to issue warnings about social distancing in hope of support from communities, which relies on culture, awareness and high discipline shown by the majority of the Japanese.
It is this manner, coupled with a national vaccination program launched recently, that has helped Japanese gradually escape from the pandemic peak, and even nurture hope for hosting Olympic games although this sporting event had to be postponed due to Covid-19 last year.
No more full normalcy
Upon arriving in the United Arab Emirates to attend the second qualifying round in Asia of the FIFA World Cup last month, Vietnam’s national squad and its counterparts had to conform to strict quarantine regulations. Likewise, the same has been applied to all athletes who want to enter the island state. These regulations may be unusual if compared with previous ones. Yet in the current context of abnormalcy, conditions for a normal life have to be changed, or at least, reduced.
It should be taken into consideration also the fact that in spite of social distancing, which comes in the form of warnings, the relevant regulations have been enforced relatively stringently, especially in the case of people who are from infected zones.
I have another story to tell. One of my colleagues won a scholarship for a two-year master’s degree from the Japanese Government last year. Yet she is still studying online her second semester in Vietnam. All the procedures for her flight to Japan were completed due to the hearty assistance of her Japanese host. Many students in the same scholarship program from other countries in the region have arrived in Japan. However, five days before her departure in early June for Japan as per the latest schedule, my colleague’s flight was postponed because once again Covid-19 broke out in the areas of both Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat airports.
The upgrade of social distancing order was effective citywide in HCMC on July 9, 2021. Different from what happens in Japan, this is not a state of emergency according to Vietnamese laws. Also, without a state of emergency, such a lockdown order must be enforced hinging upon the characteristics of Vietnamese political and legal systems.
However, similar to Japan, the higher social distancing level should achieve the consensus of the community. Administrative measures can be resorted to in this case, but it is a bad choice. More importantly, it needs self-discipline of everybody who knows that his or her acceptance of less normalcy is normal during the days we all have to live in the unfavorable conditions created by the pandemic.
Following requisition decisions, law enforcement bodies and volunteers have only one or two days to prepare hundreds of, or thousands of, empty rooms and apartments which have been unused for years. Therefore, sympathy is what is needed when quarantined people enter the quarantine facilities. In such a condition, rooms may not be clean and necessities may be inadequate.
You might have as well placed an early order at a supermarket for your necessities during the lockdown. However, your needed things had not arrived after several days. You might complain about the customer services of that supermarket. Yet given the difficulties in a city in social distancing, the smooth flow of business is out of the question.
Many goods items sent to relatives may have still remained in the warehouses of overloaded delivery companies. So, we have to wait for some more time because the contingent of shippers during this peak time has been considerably reduced.
Some of us may have to be happy with instant noodles instead of delicious dishes often seen in a usual meal. Or we are no longer able to comfortably leave our houses or apartments to inhale the fresh air every morning or evening. Instead, we have to confine ourselves in the four walls.
Lockdown sites or quarantine quarters may be crowded or extremely hot during summer days in this city. Daily pressures from work, life and climate may drive you crazy. Yet remember that we are living in the time of “new abnormal,” which may make us easily tense even with the slightest mistakes.
We as citizens should be aware of the current burden shouldered by the State and law enforcement bodies. We should all share that burden so that normal life comes back soon. During this time of “new abnormal,” sympathy and sharing are what we need to relive our normal life.
It can be said that the decision to impose the lockdown was made after prudent consideration by the municipal government to stop the advancement of the Coronavirus and prevent the possible collapse of the healthcare system.
A decision of this nature may prove right or inappropriate because all present decisions are made to cope with future events, which can be based only on current data and existing premises. But every decision is implemented this time in order to fight the pandemic and reduce economic losses in the long term.
A consultation with epidemiologists to come up with the most suitable combat against the Coronavirus was held by the city’s Party Secretary Nguyen Van Nen one day after the latest lockdown measures had been taken. Hopefully, abnormal days will soon be over.
By Truong Trong Hieu(*)
(*)University of Economics and Law, Vietnam National University, HCMC