Religious places can reopen in Vietnamese city

A family in formal clothes attend an online Mass at their home in Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo: UCA News)

The largest commercial city in southern Vietnam plans to allow religious places and inessential services to reopen with small groups as it has recorded no new Covid-19 infections for two weeks.

Duong Anh Duc, vice-chairperson of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, announced that restaurants, cinemas, entertainment centers, malls, tourism and transportation activities and other inessential services will be reopened from March 1. They must ensure the distance between two people is at least one meter while restaurants are banned from serving more than 30 customers at one time.

Duc said bars, discotheques, pubs, karaoke bars and indoor sports centers will remain closed until further notice.

Local people are requested to wear face masks in public places, wash their hands, make health declarations and clean their houses.

They must also provide health declarations, antiseptics, face masks, check body temperatures and maintain strict social distancing, while facilities must be cleaned on a regular basis.

The city official said religious facilities are allowed to organize services with fewer than 50 people at one time. They have to maintain social distancing and follow other Covid-19 measures.

The city will also allow all schools to reopen to 1.74 million students next week.

The announcement came after the city had recorded no locally transmitted infections for 16 days and no places were kept in quarantine.

The city government closed all services and public facilities including religious places on Feb. 9 after 36 new cases were detected in eight districts. Religious services with more than 20 people were banned.

On Feb. 26, People’s Committee chairperson Nguyen Thanh Phong asked Tan Binh district to chide Ward I officials for allowing 1,000 Buddhists to gather for an early new year service at Vien Giac pagoda on Feb. 19.

“The gathering of 1,000 people at the pagoda is unacceptable during the coronavirus pandemic,” Phong said. The pagoda was cleaned with disinfectant and its 32 staff and volunteers were tested, all giving negative results.

He ordered lower-ranking officials to make Covid-19 prevention their priority this year and warned them not to ignore their duties.

Phong said the country’s largest commercial city always faces a high risk of a coronavirus outbreak that will only end when the world controls Covid-19.

On Feb. 25, Hiep Binh Chanh Ward authorities reportedly fined a restaurant 4 million dong (US$173) for two staff members failing to wear face masks. The ward has fined seven cases for not wearing masks since the Tet festival.

Mary Nguyen Thi Lan from Tong Viet Buong Parish said she always wears two faces and takes a bottle of disinfectant with her every time she goes out.

“We have obeyed Covid-19 measures by the health authorities and attended online Masses because we Catholics should set a good example in the fight against the pandemic,” the mother of three said, adding that she also provides masks for other people as way to protect community health.

Lan said her mother aged 75 attends daily Masses with fewer than 20 people at the church where she keeps herself from others.

The Center for Disease Control based in the city has confirmed a total of 210 infections including 16 cases under medical treatment, 1,344 people in quarantine centers and 338 others are isolated at home since the pandemic broke out last year. - UCA News