Overcrowding at major spiritual sites sparks new Covid-19 wave fears

 Overcrowding at major spiritual sites sparks new Covid-19 wave fears

People gather in large crowds at Tam Chuc Pagoda, Ha Nam Province, March 14 2021. Photo by VnExpress/ Thanh Thao.

With the government relaxing travel restrictions and reopening religious sites, many have seen crowds of tourists throng, igniting fears of new Covid-19 outbreaks.

Tam Chuc Pagoda, a popular spiritual and tourist destination in the northern province of Ha Nam, around 60 kilometers from Hanoi, received 60,000 visitors on Sunday, three times the number as in the entire first lunar month that ended a few days ago.

The pagoda management requires all pilgrims to follow the Covid-19 prevention regime including making medical declarations, but many failed to comply with social distancing requirements.

After being closed for nearly a month due to the country's latest outbreak that began on Jan. 28, Huong (Perfume) Pagoda, a collection of temples and shrines built amid mountains and forest in Hanoi’s outlying district of My Duc, reopened last Saturday.

It received 20,000 visitors last weekend, with many refusing to wear masks and comply with other pandemic prevention measures.

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor to the Health Ministry's public health emergency operations center, said while visiting pagodas and temples during spring is a tradition there is a high risk of new outbreaks.

"Gathering in large numbers at major pagodas, many even without face masks, is extremely dangerous."

It would be very difficult to contact trace quickly if there is an outbreak among the crowds, he warned further.

Over 70 percent of Vietnamese are Buddhist or at least follow Buddhist practices.

Many anxious readers wrote to VnExpress to complain about such "really worrying" scenes of crowding at Tam Chuc Pagoda, and urged authorities to take drastic measures to prevent it.

A reader named Tam Duc wrote: "It was such a worrisome scene as the pandemic is not yet over."

Vietnam has been struggling with the latest Covid outbreak that has spread to 13 localities, including major cities like Hanoi and HCMC. There have been 901 cases since Jan. 28.

With the pandemic more or less under control, many cities and provinces, including Hai Phong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Quang Ninh, home to world famous Ha Long Bay, have allowed tourism services to resume.

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