Vietnamese reluctant to return to normalcy

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Worried about the coronavirus and rusty social skills, and enamored of their lockdown lifestyle, some people are reluctant to return to normalcy as restrictions gradually wind down.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic began, Nguyen Bao Anh, a Hanoi graphic designer, would spend nearly an hour every morning showering, putting on makeup, doing her hair, and finding the perfect outfit.

But after months of staying at home and adhering to social distancing guidelines, she has got used to getting up, putting on something comfortable and seeing only her immediate family before sitting in front of her laptop without any makeup.

Thanks to technology, she has not had any trouble working from home and for the last few months. If anything, she has been more productive, discovering that a lot of work can be done at odd hours and from the comfort of her own bed.

“I have found it easier to balance work and life when the commute is just a short stroll down the hall,” the 32-year-old says. Working remotely allows her to stay close to her husband and 10-year-old son.

So, when informed that her company wants employees back in the office from next week, she has felt distressed and sad that she will not be able to cook and have lunch with her family on weekdays any more “and must spend more time in the morning to makeup and drive to work.”

She is among many people who are reluctant to return to normal as many localities across the country are gradually reopening after months of lockdowns.

Security force removes barriers on Hanois Cong Duc Street after the city relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, Sept. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Security force removes barriers on Hanoi’s Cong Duc Street after the city relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, Sept. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Many of them are also afraid to venture out with the deadly disease still raging in many provinces and cities.

As of Wednesday, Vietnam has recorded more than 702,000 Covid-19 cases in the ongoing outbreak, causing more than 17,000 deaths. Ho Chi Minh City, where some restrictions have been eased, is the worst-hit locality with 348,220 patients and 13,496 deaths.

Tran Cong Danh of District 8 in epicenter HCMC, said he does not plan to meet up with friends or travel anytime soon for fear of getting infected.

“The Delta variant is still spreading and still a threat. I’ve gotten only one dose of Covid vaccine and still likely to develop serious illness,” the 44-year-old says, adding he still wonders whether going shopping is really worth the risk when HCMC reopens.

Gia Linh, 28, of Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District concurs, saying she is “uneasy” about resuming in-person social interactions, regardless of vaccination status.

She got her second shot two weeks ago, but says she has been terrified about the coronavirus, and getting vaccinated cannot magically change that.

“I know that the country is ramping up vaccination. But the number of daily new infections has not gone down, and reopening does not mean we are totally safe from the virus.”

A Hanoi woman living on Cong Duc Street stays at home complying with Covid restrictions, August 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

A Hanoi woman living on Cong Duc Street stays at home complying with Covid restrictions, August 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Over 28.3 million people in the country have received at least one shot, and 6.8 million people have been fully vaccinated.

For some it is nerve-racking to just think about the awkwardness of reacclimating to social life after months of being cooped up inside.

Some experts have dubbed this anxiety “cave syndrome.”

According to Wall Street Journal, American psychiatrist Dr Arthur Bregma coined the non-medical term cave syndrome, saying it “ranges in degree, from vaccinated individuals who are cautious but take part in limited social interaction to those who choose not to go outside at all.”

Bui Trung Kien, 27, is not excited to go back into society again after knowing that Hanoi has relaxed its Covid restrictions and allowed some businesses to open.

He says he has become accustomed to living between the walls of his apartment and the thought of participating in acts of everyday life like having lunch with colleagues, going to malls or coming into close contact with others is a bit “jarring and somewhat upsetting.”

“I worry that I have forgotten how to interact with people, now I have to find stories to tell my colleagues during our lunch break, or say hello to people in the elevators,” the IT engineer says.

Over several months at home many people have picked up new habits and enjoyed being close to their spouse and children, and do not enjoy the idea of returning to normal life.

Le Hong Quan, an IT programmer who lives in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, is one of them.

Since starting to work from home in May, he has started napping during the lunch break after having a vegetarian meal. Returning to office now will mean the 28-year-old has to give up his new habits.

“I cannot take lunch to the office because there is no place for eating, and I hate the idea of giving up my vegetarian meals.”

On Facebook, many white-collar workers have expressed reluctance as talk about venturing out and returning to office has begun.

“Thinking about morning traffic jams on my way to office makes me want social distancing to last forever,” one said.

A recent survey by market research firm Q&Me found 80 percent of respondents expecting to have some remote work post-pandemic, with 20 percent wishing to work completely from home.

A man shows his approved document to enter Canh Doi Park in District 7, HCMC, after the city pilots outdoor exercise as another step to lift Covid restrictions, Sept. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

A man shows his approved document to enter Canh Doi Park in District 7, HCMC, after the city pilots outdoor exercise as another step to lift Covid restrictions, Sept. 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

Youngsters in particular want to make remote work permanent and plan to seek new opportunities.

A recent survey by HCMC recruitment company Adecco found that less than 4 percent of Gen Z look forward to returning to their workplace after the lockdown.

“I have looked for new freelance jobs that allow me to work from home, because my employer will require me to work in the office on weekdays starting next month if we are fully vaccinated,” Duc, an IT programmer in Hanoi who refused to reveal his full name, says.

While authorities are gradually paving the way for a return to normalcy by removing blockades and allowing the reopening of some businesses in low-risk areas, many people are also trying to readjust to life after lockdowns.

Many are renewing relationships with friends and colleagues whom they have not seen for a while.

“After knowing we will return to office in October, my teammates and I have had Zoom calls every Friday night to make small talk to break the ice after having no personal meetings for long,” Nguyen Hai An, an English teacher in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, says.

“It is not that I do not want the pandemic to go away, it is that I have been so comfortable with this new way of living, and now things change again.”

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