As the novel coronavirus continues to stalk Vietnam, bus and taxi drivers are grappling with how to stay healthy without losing their livelihood.
Nguyen Kim Chi, a taxi driver in Ho Chi Minh City, had a passenger from Tan Son Nhat International Airport on March 18.
After getting on the bus, she tried to keep a close eye on passengers as she drove to a hotel in District 1.
The man is on the phone, leaning forward from time to time to talk.
"I couldn't see his face clearly because he was wearing a mask," she recalls.He coughed twice but looked healthy."
Her rule now is that passengers have to sit in the back seat to reduce close contact.
Chi, 35, is one of thousands of taxi and bus drivers in Vietnam who are at risk of contracting the new coronavirus as they make a living.
A taxi driver waits for his customer in the coastal town of Nha Trang.Shutterstock / Busurmanov's photo.
Drivers are especially vulnerable since they are in close contact with strangers every day without knowing if they are carrying the virus.
As a driver of a tour bus between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh province, Nguyen Thanh Tung meets and talks with dozens of tourists every day, most of them foreigners.
Since the disease came to Vietnam, he has never been reassured and taken measures to protect himself from infection.
Last week, when some travelers on a Vietnam Airlines flight arrived in Ha Long and then tested positive for the virus, Mr. Tung decided to stop transporting foreigners immediately.
“Who knows if the people I carry are infected with the virus or not."
On March 7 a chauffeur in Hanoi was diagnosed with the virus after contracting it from his employer who was returning from Europe.Before the positive test result, the driver had traveled to several places in Hanoi, and so dozens of people he met were quarantined.
Many motorists fear they are on the front lines of the pandemic.On a Facebook group for drivers of a ride-hailing service in Saigon, many people asked how to recognize Covid-19 patients and how to protect themselves.
Hoang Thanh Hung, a Saigon taxi driver, said, “I reuse medical masks and stopped picking up passengers from the airport earlier this week."
When people are rushing into the shopping spree, many bus and taxi drivers cannot buy protective gear such as face masks and gloves, making it harder for them to avoid infection while at work.
Others clean and disinfect their vehicles more often to reduce risk.
"A full-time bus driver like me can come into contact with hundreds of people a day," said Nguyen Trong Binh, a bus driver in District 12, Saigon.He sprays disinfectant on his seats and steering wheel every hour, "it's never enough."
Many drivers are also afraid of being quarantined in case they come into contact with a suspected patient since it would severely hit their livelihood.
Le Hai in Hanoi has experienced this.Most of his customers are flight attendants of an airline whose headquarters is right next to Hai's house.
He said: “I received a call from one of my regular passengers last Friday saying that a flight attendant had tested positive and the cabin crew office was being disinfected.Most of the people I transport are from there, so I could be F3."
His company has advised him to stay at home instead of going to work for 14 days."Two weeks with no income...He lamented.
As more and more cases of Covid-19 are being diagnosed, people have been advised to adopt social distancing to contain the spread of the virus.
Many people avoid going out due to fear of contagion, and taxi and bus drivers are also seeing a sharp drop in demand for their services.
"I used to have 30 trips a day before the pandemic, now there are less than 10," said taxi driver Truong Manh Cuong as he drove around Saigon's 10th district.
In addition to paying the bills, he also has to pay monthly installments for his car.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Taxi Association, the number of passengers in February was 3.6-4.5 million, down 50-60% annually.
According to Mr. Nguyen Cong Hung, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Automobile Transport Association, the taxi business in Hanoi is also affected.Some transport companies have seen their profits halve year-on-year while passenger volumes are down 15-18% per week.
Many people are uncertain about whether to continue with their jobs or find an alternative job as the situation worsens as the authorities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City order the closure of all entertainment venues.
"I took a break from work in the evening and will resume when everything is back to normal", Mr. Cuong said.
Inter-provincial buses waiting for passengers at a station in Hanoi.Photo: VnExpress / Anh Duy.
The falling tourist numbers is leaving bus drivers like Nguyen Van Thuong in Hanoi high and dry.He was traveling on the route from Hanoi to the northern mountain town of Sa Pa, and said daily passenger numbers had dropped by as much as 70 per cent since the first new coronavirus case was confirmed in the capital in March 6 after the country has passed 22 days. without any infection.
Trinh Hoai Nam, Deputy Director of Hanoi Nuoc Ngam Bus Station, said that most carriers have cut 30-50% of bus trips from Hanoi to northern localities, making drivers low-income.
The situation will remain the same as the number of foreign visitors to the country in February fell 22% year-on-year to 1.2 million people, and industry insiders think things will get worse when Vietnam has suspended visas for all foreigners.
"Since last week, no one wants to go to Sapa", Thuong said and alluded to an infected tourist going to Sapa, causing everyone to cancel their trip because of fear.
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