Workers fleeing Ho Chi Minh ahead of the pandemic
by Peter Tran

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are leaving large industrial cities to return to their hometowns due to the lockdown. Many families are making the journey on foot. “I have been unemployed for more than three months,” said one man on the road with his family. “At least we will be safer at home”.


Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – A sea of motorbikes has jammed the roads out of the provinces of Ho Chi Minh City, Bình Dương and Đồng Nai.

Over the past week, entire families have left industrial cities for their hometowns, driven by fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficult economic situation.

Starting on 1 October, whether on the back of motorcycles or on foot carrying the bare essentials on their shoulders, tens of thousands of Vietnamese workers began an exodus to flee pandemic hot spots and employment uncertainty.

“We are temporarily allowing these workers to return to their hometown,” said Mr Loi, deputy head of the Traffic Police Department in Tan Tuc City. “They are moving in large numbers and it is impossible to know when the exodus will end.”

According to preliminary data, the provinces of An Giang and Đồng Tháp saw the return of more than 30,000 and 27,000 workers respectively.

Such huge numbers are not only causing problems for local roads, but risk triggering “virus migration”.

This is the case in An Giang, where 130 people out of 15,000 who returned last Monday tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"I went to Ho Chi Minh City to work as a plumber,” said Nguyen V. Thiên, on the road with his wife and two children. “I worked for less than a month, then the pandemic broke out.”

“I have been unemployed for more than three months due to the virus and have no money to feed my children,” he explained. “At least we will be safer at home, we will not have to pay rent, and we will have what to live on. I rode the bike all night to avoid daytime traffic.”

Since early July, the infection and death rates in Vietnam have risen dramatically. The number of new cases reached a peak of 14,000 per day in the first week of September.

The situation has forced the government to take drastic measures, imposing a lockdown in the most affected areas.

As of 1 October, the police and groups of volunteers have been helping travellers along the main roads of the Southeast Asian country.

“Some families set out on foot and find themselves walking for hundreds of kilometres before reaching their homes,” a volunteer said. “We hand out drinking water, bread and milk, especially to younger children.”

Mr Kiên remembers one of the families helped by volunteers, two sisters who, riding a motorcycle, were going home to Đồng Tháp from Bình Dương province.

“They had stopped for a short break and I saw that they had a photo in their hands. I went up to them and asked who the woman was.

“They told me that it was their mother who died of Coronavirus on 3 September. 'We are bringing her ashes back to her home,' they said.”

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