New Covid wave makes life harder for foreign tourists stuck in HCMC

 New Covid wave makes life harder for foreign tourists stuck in HCMC

Fabrice (L) sells fried bananas at the corner of Tran Dinh Xu and Nguyen Cu Trinh streets in HCMC's District 1, December 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.

Foreign tourists who came to Vietnam before the Covid-19 outbreak and were stuck due to border closures have managed to survive but the latest wave has made things hard.

For nearly two months now Jagir Singh, an Indian tourist who has been in Vietnam for more than a year, is without a job or income as HCMC, the new pandemic epicenter, imposed more stringent social distancing measures.

"Without money to pay my rent, I am now sharing a room in District 1 with my former employer who also provides me food," he says.

"I don't know when I will be able to earn enough money to fly home to reunite with my family. I miss my family."

He is one of many foreign tourists who have been extending their visas and staying back instead of returning home. They either chose to stay to avoid more complicated situations of the pandemic at home, or could not find tickets for limited and expensive flights home.

When he first started running out of money, he wandered around the city looking for a job and luckily found work as a parking attendant at a small coffee shop at the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu streets in District 1. It was very difficult for him to adapt to the new life due to the language barrier, but he gradually got used to it.

Jagir Singh walks a motorbike at the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu streets in HCMCs District 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Tran Thien Phuong.

Jagir Singh works as a parking attendant at a coffee shop in HCMC's District 1 in 2020. Photo by Tran Thien Phuong.

Before the latest Covid wave began in the country in April, Jagir earned a monthly salary of VND6-7 million ($260-303) and sent half to his wife in India, keeping the rest to pay for his visa fees and daily expenses.

But in mid-May he lost his job since coffee shops were only allowed to serve takeout.

Since HCMC extended its lockdown last Friday and made it more stringent than in the previous month, Jagir says he has been staying at home and doesn’t dare go out for fear of contracting the virus.

"Compared to other countries that have been affected by the Covid pandemic, I felt quite safe in Vietnam where I have good friends. Anyway, I hope the outbreak will soon be contained so I can return to work."

A 32-year-old Frenchwoman who asked only to be identified as Laura and has been staying in a rented room in District 7 for nearly two months, says her English teaching center closed this month.

"I am worried about my rents and electricity and water bills as my savings are running out. If the pandemic continues and lockdown measures are extended, I could be thrown out of my room.

"I am looking for some translation jobs to earn a little money to cover my bills, but I have not found anything suitable yet."

Since being stranded since mid-February last year, she had managed to earn VND10 million a month by teaching English. The cost of living in HCMC has been higher than she thought, she says.

The room costs only $100 a month and she cooks her food to save money. She says she is happy to be stuck in Vietnam for more than a year since it had one the lowest rates of Covid incidence.

"I only hope the Covid pandemic will quickly disappear so that everyone can return to normal life."

She says she has no idea of returning home for now due to the price of the air tickets.

Fabrice, 50, who was selling fried bananas on a cart at the corner of Tran Dinh Xu and Nguyen Cu Trinh streets in District 1, has also had to stop after city authorities this time even prohibited food takeout and delivery to combat the more aggressive delta variant of Covid.

He is now struggling with room rents and other expenses since the cart was his main source of income.

The Frenchman, who arrived in January 2020 on a visa that expired in April, struggled at first since he had only a little English.

After a while, to earn some money to cover his expenses, he decided to sell fried bananas and has been doing so every morning for more than a year.

For Jagir, Laura and Fabrice, the biggest wish now is for the city to quickly contain the outbreak and reopen businesses.

HCMC has had over 25,000 Covid cases in the fourth wave that hit Vietnam in late April. For several days now the number of daily cases in the city has remained above 1,000, and there have been no signs it will taper off any time soon.

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