Crowds of Vietnamese people rushed checkpoints and clashed with police Friday as the country began lifting months-long coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City and other large cities, videos obtained by RFA showed.
At checkpoints around Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, laborers from rural areas broke barricades and fought with police, while others knelt in the street and pleaded with the police to let them through, saying they had run out of money to stay in the city, the videos showed.
Several thousand immigrant laborers in Ho Chi Minh City attempted to leave the city, state media reported, causing heavy congestion in many of the checkpoints.
In one incident in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province, at least one person was injured when members of the militia used batons on the crowd of people gathered Thursday night and Friday morning and demanding that authorities remove barricades to allow them to leave.
Video of clashes like the one in Binh Duong went viral on social media in the country of 98 million people.
Vietnam had been among the most effective countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
After weathering three waves of the virus with confirmed cases numbering in the low thousands, a fourth wave arrived in April 2021, causing the current outbreak, with a caseload rapidly approaching 800,000.
During the fourth wave, the country locked down its largest cities and forbade residents from leaving their houses except to procure food, a move that has led to widespread unemployment and loss of income.
Other people became stranded far away from their homes due to the lockdowns, some of which lasted longer three months.
Local state-run outlet Voice of Vietnam reported that, starting Friday, Ho Chi Minh city planned to transport by bus anyone who wishes to return to their home province.
At midday Friday, many people were still waiting for their turn to go through the checkpoint on Highway #1 in the city’s Binh Chanh district.
The Zing online newspaper reported Friday that provinces west of the city had sent traffic police to the area to escort busloads of people to their hometowns. They formed a convoy of buses with more than 1,000 passengers bound for 13 provinces. Several hundred people on motorbikes joined the convoy.
People returning from Ho Chi Minh City are required to quarantine in local facilities. Provincial leaders asked returning citizens not to simply return home on a whim, but to register ahead of time to ensure safety, local media reported.
For Ho Chi Minh City’s residents, a trip outside the city remains forbidden. While they are now allowed to travel within the city, they may not move between Ho Chi Minh and other jurisdictions.
As of Friday, Vietnam had confirmed 790,755 cases of COVID-19 and 19,301 deaths according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.