Hunger, clandestine trade at Vietnam Covid-19 epicenter

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Sep 10 (EFE).- After months of confinement to varying degrees to curb the pandemic, thousands of people can barely meet basic needs in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, where neighbors have begun networks and clandestine commerce to compensate for the system’s deficiencies.

“So far I have gone out several times to buy for about 15 people who live near my house and have nothing. I’ve done it four times, but now I cannot because there are police controls and they do not let me pass,” said Chau, a young man living there.

He has managed to evade surveillance thanks to a police neighbor who can go through the checkpoints and deliver, an example of how informal solidarity networks use deception to bypass the rigidities of the system imposed by authorities.

Since Aug. 23, leaving the house in the whole city has been forbidden, except for medical reasons or essential activity, such as the distribution of food or basic necessities, but since early July, movements have been restricted. Restaurants and leisure premises have been closed since June.

With such strict control and much diminished neighborhood solidarity networks, it is organized groups with government permits to move from one part of the city to another that carry out this work, complementary to government aid packages, which do not always arrive.

“Before I had organized donations for typhoon victims, but I saw what was happening in the city with homeless people, people who had not been able to work for months and I decided to help them. Other groups have focused on Covid-19 patients, on bringing medicine and oxygen, but we have followed the criteria of hunger,” said Rosi Happi, founder of the Social Changemakers group.

Through online events, this small organization has raised in July and August about 150 million dong ($ 6,600) that have helped feed a thousand families in the city.

Although authorities have promised monthly aid packages and the army distributes free food in some neighborhoods, the aid does not reach everyone, lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Vietnamese communist administration.

“They are families who live in houses of 20 sqm and cannot even pay rent. Aid does not reach everyone, there are people who for different reasons are not registered. However, there is aid that reaches registered people who you don’t need it,” Happi said.

Although the main streets are practically deserted, within the apartment complexes and the intricate alleys of the city, a parallel market has been launched in which neighbors obtain food and sell it to each other.

“Some families have members who work as delivery men for supermarkets or shops. Or have personal connections with people in the local government to get a permit to circulate. It happens all over the city,” said Giang, a 29-year-old photographer.

Neighbors are generally organized through Zalo, the most popular messaging application, where the seller announces the products that he will have every week and interested neighbors fill out a form to place the order.

Although sometimes the delivery is made by leaving the merchandise in an agreed place and paying by bank transfer, it is frequent that the seller and the buyer meet for the transaction, against the slogan of the authorities not to maintain contact except with people that live together.

These informal networks are the alternative to home delivery launched by supermarkets, often with joint orders for groups of neighbors, but police controls make it difficult for goods to arrive from the surrounding agricultural provinces. Demand is high and supply is tight, leading to delays and runaway commodity inflation.

According to the Thanh Nien newspaper, the price of some fruit and vegetables has quadrupled and essential elements of the Vietnamese diet such as noodles or pork have doubled in price.

Aware of the disastrous economic consequences of the crisis, authorities have accelerated vaccinations this week, following the arrival of new doses. They foresee a progressive reopening of the city as of Sep. 15, while moving toward the goal of vaccinating everyone over 18 with the full dosage.

Ho Chi Minh City and the neighboring provinces of Dong Nai and Binh Duong have registered most of the more than 570,000 cases and the 14,470 deaths from Covid-19 in the country, which until May had barely registered 35 fatalities.

More than 20 percent of a population of 97 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but only 4 percent have received the full course, a figure authorities hope to increase in coming months to reach 70 percent by spring. EFE


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