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Vietnam’s Virus Checkpoints Screen for Fevers, Limit Urban Movement

A bar in Ho Chi Minh City was closed after authorities believed COVID-19 spread there. (VOA News)

Vietnam’s cities have set up checkpoints in their fight against COVID-19, in some cases conducting virus tests on all who enter as they ramp up measures to prevent a second or third wave of the virus from hitting the nation.

The northern city of Hai Phong was the latest to ramp up restrictions, beginning Saturday, when the People's Committee issued a regulation suspending new permits that allow drivers to transport goods in and out of the city.

The committee joined larger cities Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang in setting up checkpoints to more closely monitor the flow of people and goods through its borders.

Bigger cities went a step further. Photos from government media show municipal officials in blue plastic body suits screening all drivers with contactless thermometers to check for fever at the borders.

“We have won each battle, but the whole battle is still ahead,” Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said.

Authorities are ramping up measures out of concern that people will become complacent since Vietnam was able to limit the first wave of COVID-19 to fewer than 100 reported cases in February.

One sign of this is the presence of motorbike drivers racing in Ho Chi Minh City, taking advantage of the empty roads since the Southeast Asian nation began lockdown on April 1.

Although there is a national restriction of public gatherings of more than two people at a time, illegal motorbike racing also is happening in the capital city of Hanoi along with gatherings around lakes and other public places, particularly among young people.

The central beach town of Danang is among those in Vietnam that set up checkpoints to limit movement. (VOA News)
The central beach town of Danang is among those in Vietnam that set up checkpoints to limit movement. (VOA News)

The Hanoi People's Committee said Monday it has asked police to fine those who go out without approved reasons. The committee has issued a regulation to penalize those who violate quarantine, fail to submit health declaration forms, recycle used masks, produce fake medical products, or price gouge products in high demand. Pharmacies in the capital are also required to inform authorities of possible coronavirus cases.

There are “still many people going out during the period of social distancing, while many world health experts warn that not distancing will lead to unpredictable consequences,” the committee said in a statement. It warned people if they do not stay inside, “in the near future, there will be a high risk of infection for the community with new cases.”

Out of Vietnam’s 265 cases of COVID-19, Hanoi has the most at 114 cases, about twice as many as Ho Chi Minh City. So far, the nation has reported no deaths. Its mobility restrictions are among the strictest in Southeast Asia, with Thailand also checking temperatures at checkpoints, and the Philippines using checkpoints to ensure people aren’t traveling unless they have documented permission.

To increase compliance with the stricter measures, Hanoi has them announced over the city’s public speakers on the street, while Ho Chi Minh City has officials drive around in vehicles equipped with speakers to make the announcements.

Private companies are participating in domestic efforts to encourage confinement, as well. When people make phone calls, all the major phone service providers play a recording asking people to stay inside before they connect the calls. Restaurants and supermarkets have increased delivery service.

One bank, Standard Chartered Vietnam, has introduced cash incentives for e-commerce, food delivery and pharmacy transactions to encourage people to stay home. It also offered some customers interest payment waivers and loan restructuring.

“We understand that individuals and businesses in Vietnam are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Nirukt Sapru, chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Vietnam. “We hope that the relief measures will help our clients get through this stressful period.”

Some street vendors are still riding bicycles around town, selling baguettes and fruit, and motorbike races can still be heard on the road. However, most Vietnamese are broadly supportive of the stricter measures. For instance, the national lockdown was set for April 1-15, but Linh Son Ngo said he would support an extension.

“Although I really want to talk to people already, if it is necessary then extending for one more week is OK,” he said via Facebook.