Motorbike drivers pass a section of road between Đà Nẵng and Huế. Thousands of people are returning to their hometowns from HCM City and other southern provinces due to financial stress caused by COVID-19, Photo courtesy of Đà Nẵng Traffic Police
CENTRAL REGION — More than 5,000 people have fled pandemic hotspots and locked-down zones to return to their hometowns in motorbike caravans that sometimes number upwards of 100 people.
Traffic police forces in Thừa Thiên Huế and Đà Nẵng have reported that more than 1,000 people with nearly 600 motorbikes had been stopped at COVID-19 checkpoints between July 21 and 28 alone.
Rather than shun the weary travellers, Phạm Hồng Hải of Đà Nẵng traffic police, said the community has come together to offer their support.
Volunteers and donors came together with traffic police to provide logistics, fuel, food and to repair motorbikes for free, he said.
Most of them were workers, street vendors and small business owners who were out of jobs and income because of social distancing orders that began in early July, he went on.
He said most of their bikes were very old and needed to be serviced and that student volunteers from Đông Á University along with rescue teams were called in to support the tired returnees.
Gia Lai provincial traffic police also said it had checked at least 300 motorbikes returning from HCM City, Bình Dương and Đồng Nai provinces every day between July 20-27.
A Siu, 31, from Kon Tum province, said he worked for a factory in Bình Dương Province, but it was closed for three months due to COVID-19. He and his wife with an 18-month baby had to return home to rural Sa Thầy district as their savings had all been spent.
“We tried and waited. But nothing changed for the better. We used our savings to survive during the social distancing orders, but we lost our patience. Going home was the best choice as we could not earn money, but rent and our daily food expenses were still paid,” Siu said.
“Bus trips were banned, so we had to ride on a motorbike, and the trip took us 15 hours. It’s dangerous, but we had no choice.”
Phạm Văn Quốc, who returned to Huế from HCM City, said his garment factory had closed for two months and he would have to wait in his hometown till work could resume again.
Motorbike drivers take a rest stop in central Việt Nam on their road journey from the southern region to their homelands in the central and northern provinces. Photo courtesy of Đà Nẵng Traffic Police
Quốc said the journey was risky and exhausting, but he was glad to finally be home safe. On arrival, he would have to take a 14-day quarantine and isolate for a further seven days afterwards at home.
Traffic police in Huế also said they had responded to an accident involving a married couple with a small child travelling by motorbike from HCM City to the northern province of Lào Cai. The accident was attributed to fatigue after travelling nearly 1,000km in two days and nights. No one was seriously injured.
Among returnees, dozens of infections of COVID-19 have been found. They are tested as soon as they arrive in their hometowns and at checkpoints and often end up in mass quarantine centres in Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi and Thừa Thiên Huế provinces.
Thừa Thiên Huế and Quảng Ngãi provinces said that from August 1, they will stop allowing locals to return from HCM City and other southern provinces as quarantine centres in the two provinces become overloaded.
Quảng Ngãi province has already arranged to bring 400 people in HCM City home, while 1,800 have arranged to stay at quarantine centres or hotels in their hometowns.
Notably, provincial quarantine facilities and health care workers in the region can only handle 6,000 people at maximum capacity.
According to a report from the provincial traffic police department, 1,200 people returned by motorbike from July 23-28.
The province also reported that nearly 3,000 other people were driving home in their own cars in the coming days.
Authorities have warned that the situation will become much worse if people keep flocking home en masse. In particular, the healthcare system, with its limited infrastructure, will collapse.
Traffic police in Đà Nẵng support motorbike drivers on their south to north road trip. Thousands of people drove motorbikes from HCM City to the central provinces between July 22 and 28. VNS Photo Lê Lâm
The provincial health department said 103 out of 163 COVID-19 patients – 64 per cent – were released from hospitals between June 26 and July 29.
Authorities in Thừa Thiên Huế have said the province had received more than 600 people by train and air between July 24-27. A flight had also been arranged for another 250 people from HCM City for August 1.
The province said it had already received 8,000 Huế-natives returning for the south, but that accommodation and medical facilities at quarantined centres could only provide enough space for 10,000 people.
Quảng Nam Province said it had received more than 7,500 returnees that were now in isolation at mass centres and in their homes. Only three positive cases were found among them.— VNS