Covid-19 deals fresh blow to Saigon’s tourist street

The latest closure of bars, discotheques and karaoke parlors following a resurgence in Covid-19 leaves nighttime business on Saigon’s iconic Bui Vien Street despairing.

Bui Vien Street, foreign tourists, community transmissions, karaoke parlors, Vietnam, HCMC

It is 7 p.m. and Nguyen Thu Huyen, an employee at a discotheque on Bui Vien Street in District 1, sits in a dark corner in front of her closed establishment trying to book a bus ticket back to her hometown in Soc Trang Province.

The 26-year-old only returned to work in mid-March after more than a month following the previous outbreak in late January that forced city authorities to close all non-essential services including bars and discotheques.

She had been hoping to earn some extra income during the four-day national holiday (April 30-May 3) to make up for earlier losses, but her hopes have been dashed as community transmission returned to Vietnam on Thursday, just a day before the holiday.

"Now I only have enough money to buy a bus ticket home and cannot afford the housing rent if I continue to stay in HCMC," Huyen said.

After over a month without new community transmission cases, 24 have been found since Thursday in four localities including 12 in Ha Nam Province, six in Vinh Phuc Province, three in Hanoi, two in Hung Yen Province, all in the north, and one in Ho Chi Minh City.

The HCMC case is linked to a Ha Nam man who returned from Japan and tested positive two days after completing his two-week centralized quarantine. The city's authorities ordered bars, karaoke parlors and discotheques closed on Friday night.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, owner of a karaoke parlor on Bui Vien Street, put away her chairs and tables in a corner and closed the facility on Friday.

After losing badly because of the Covid outbreak during the Lunar New Year (Tet) in February, she was hoping to make up some of those losses during this holiday to pay bonuses to her staff whose incomes have reduced sharply due to the pandemic.

She used to have 30 employees but only six now. With the latest closure, Thanh fears she would be unable to keep her business going.

"Feeling a bit sad and disappointed, but I fully support the city’s decision since bars and karaoke parlors in enclosed spaces pose a high risk of community transmission. If one person carries the virus into such places, the consequences could be very dangerous."

Tran Thi Suong, owner of a restaurant on the backpacker street, has returned to her hometown in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang.

Though restaurants, pubs and beer clubs do not need to be closed, most owners have voluntarily shut down as a precautionary measure.

"Without bars and discotheques, nobody comes to Bui Vien anyway," Suong said.

Future dark for backpacker street

Nighttime business on Bui Vien, which is closed to vehicles during weekends, heavily relies on foreign tourists. It used to be filled with foreigners day and night, but with Vietnam’s borders closed, nightlife there has virtually ground to a halt.

Business establishments normally pay rents of VND90-100 million ($3,900-4,300) a month. Though many landlords have reduced the rent amid the pandemic, it has been difficult for businesses to keep going.

Of the 90 food and drink establishments on the street, 40 have closed down since the country's Covid-19 outbreak began early last year.

"I doesn’t know for how long I can maintain my business as I have had to struggle with for the past year and borrowed money from my acquaintances to pay my staff salaries," Thanh said.

"Due to high rents and operating costs, many of my peers have gone bankrupt."

Business owners like Thanh and Suong hope the outbreak will soon be controlled and the government will allow vaccinated foreign tourists to come to the country so that tourism-reliant nighttime businesses can return to normal soon.

Huyen wishes the government will quickly put out the new Covid outbreak since her discotheque cannot survive if the outbreak lasts much longer.

Bui Vien Street, foreign tourists, community transmissions, karaoke parlors, Vietnam, HCMC

A woman stands in front of a bar in Bui Vien Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

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