• Meghan Bartok

Lockdown Summer 2021 - the reality of life in Vietnam

Even though this is a hard post to write, the situation isn't getting better so I thought I would update you on it. The first thing I want to say is that Vietnam is a beautiful country to travel in, and a pretty good one to live in overall, outside of COVID-19 times. The past few months have been extremely challenging, and there is no end in sight.

In 2020, I was fortunate. Other than one month in lockdown in April, and three weeks in quarantine in August, Vietnam handled the pandemic well. The case numbers were some of the lowest in the world, and it felt very safe here. Except for wearing masks, life in Vietnam was pretty normal. We taught our English classes in schools, got to hug our students, and meet our friends for dinner or coffee. Everything was open. It was the complete opposite of life in the western world.

Some of my favorite students!

As February 2021 rolled around, it seemed as though everything had completely changed. Families and friends at home and abroad were getting vaccinated and things were looking up again. I was glad that they were able to start feeling somewhat normal after such a challenging year. There was, however, little access to vaccines, and Vietnamese schools extended Lunar New Year breaks by two weeks, along with closing all non-essential businesses for the month of February. The sudden drop in income was difficult, as none of us had planned for this. For most of February, we stayed at home, only going out for groceries. Things began to open up again in March. In addition to getting some last-minute baby items for Claire, this made it relatively easier to get to the hospital for the delivery.

In the hospital with Baby Claire - March 2021

More cases of COVID-19 were detected late in April, which led the government to shut down non-essential businesses and services. Schools closed early and students spent the last several weeks of the semester doing online classes only. We hoped that this month of restrictions would enable things to return to normal as they had in the past. During the other lockdowns, we would have a few weeks to a month of restriction, then things would get better.

This time was different. As a result of the Delta variant and very low vaccination rates, the case numbers here in Vietnam just kept increasing. First, they banned gatherings of more than five people. Then it was groups of more than three people. Since all public transportation services, including taxis, have been shut down, it makes it nearly impossible to get anywhere without personal transportation.

The worst restrictions have been in effect since mid-June. There is a daily 6 pm-6 am curfew, and It is not allowed to leave the house unless it is to buy groceries twice a week with a time-allotted slip. Exercise outside is forbidden, you cannot leave your ward (neighborhood), and all restaurants are closed, even for delivery. Since we have not received any grocery slips, we've been ordering from online grocery delivery services. Because so many other people are doing the same, you may have to wait up to three weeks for your groceries. Many people have started buying food from Facebook vendors, which is a much easier way to order groceries since it takes only a couple of days to arrive.

Lockdown in a city of 9 million people (photo credit to VnExpress.com)

It was announced on the 13th of August that these restrictions would be extended for another month until the 15th of September. At the moment, I'm just praying that things will get better by then. For a while, I was very frustrated about the little things like not being able to see friends or go for a walk. Right now, I'm only concerned about the fact that we've been unable to get Claire's birth certificate since the office where you are supposed to do it is closed. We cannot apply for her passport without her birth certificate. It is easily the most stressful situation I have ever been in. I know I might sound a bit negative, but it is hard not knowing when we will be able to start this process that can take months from start to finish. If you're reading this, please send good thoughts that things will get better soon!

In good news, James has received his first COVID vaccine. I wasn't able to get vaccinated due to concerns with the AstraZeneca vaccine impacting breastfeeding. I am on a list for Moderna or Pfizer when it becomes available.

And, in the meantime, we've been making some YouTube videos - check out our latest one here on how we spend time with baby Claire during the lockdown.