This photo was taken towards the end of July. For several weeks prior to this, Vietnam had experienced few new cases of covid-19, and none were community transmissions. The government had eased domestic travel restrictions, and Vietnamese travelers were returning to visit tourist centers like Hoi An. The people in the photo are from all over Vietnam. Not a mask in sight. The feeling, generally unspoken but real, was that Vietnam had dodged the covid-19 bullet and we could relax.
Within ten days of this photo being taken, covid-19 cases had spiked in Da Nang 20 km away, and all of the new infections were community transmissions. Authorities locked down Da Nang and sealed off the city, closing the airport and setting up police check points to restrict road access. Hoi An followed suit, locking down about a day after Da Nang had. By the time the lock down began, all of the tourists in Hoi An were gone – if I am not mistaken, the government organized road transport and extra flights to get people home as quickly as possible. Virtually everything closed in Hoi An and the streets were empty. People, yours truly included, were nervous. The virus was spreading by community transmissions and the epicenter of the spike was in nearby Da Nang.
Resolute action on the part of public health authorities combined with a local population cooperating with government efforts to contain the spread of the virus allowed Vietnam to get the late July spike in new cases under control by the end of August. But not before several hundred people became infected and more than 30 died. The lock down in Hoi An, which saw less and less “locked” as the end of August approached, ended formally a few days before the end of the month, and Da Nang re-opened several days later.
The rush to open up for tourism has not occurred this time as it did in the spring and summer of this year. Restaurants, shops and other businesses are open, people are out and about, but if the tourists have begun returning to Hoi An, I have not noticed. People are certainly relieved to resume life more or less as normal, but a wariness remains, a feeling that we still might not be done with this.
It’s 10 in the morning and this woman is finished serving breakfast. She has packed up her tiny noodle shop on wheels and is getting ready to head home.