Roaming: Vietnamese and Australian blockades

Without saying it, most of you probably know that there are many differences in blockade regulations between the two places. I see the way of blockade and anti-epidemic in Vietnam is policed, and Sydney is civilized.

Where I live, Sydney, is a city of about 5.3 million people, and is very ethnically and culturally diverse. There are more than 20 ethnic groups from all over the world living in Sydney. I don’t know how many Vietnamese there are in Sydney, but a census many years ago showed that people of Vietnamese descent made up about 1.8 percent of the population, which in turn meant there were about 95,000 Vietnamese in Sydney. The reason I talk about ethnicity is because such a multicultural city is difficult to manage during the epidemic season.

Sydney has been locked down since the beginning of July 2021. At first they said it was only a 2 week blockade, but then the number of cases continued to increase, they ‘extended’ for 2 weeks, then extended it again for 4 weeks, then … no more promises. But yesterday, the New South Wales government’s Cabinet agreed to start lifting the blockade from September 13 (ie next Monday), although the number of cases is still increasing but not decreasing. They unload slowly, but not back to normal as before.

1. Australia-style lockdown

As I see it, ‘blockade’ here is probably classified as ‘soft lockdown’. The general rule is that people are not allowed to leave their homes, but there are quite a few exceptions. These exceptions are so many that they are complex, for example:

  • some essential businesses are open; Restaurants and eateries are still open, but only for take-out, not on-site seating;
  • people are still allowed to go out of their house to go to the market (only 1 person) within 5 km, go to the hospital, go to the doctor, etc.;
  • people are still able to work if their jobs are considered ‘essential’ (such as healthcare, supermarkets, police);
  • people working in non-essential occupations (such as universities, research institutes) can still work, but their work is considered necessary and must be authorized by the workplace; working people must be tested every 3 days, and testing costs are completely free;
  • People can still go out of the gym, but must wear a mask.

So, when I went to the local market, I found that the restaurant was still quite crowded, even though there were no customers sitting at the coffee table chatting anymore (because they only sell takeout). Vietnamese restaurants are still open and can be said to be quite busy.

A Vietnamese neighborhood in Sydney during the blockade. Many grocery stores and services are still open, traffic is still crowded, but there are fewer people than usual.

The police also patrol, but they only intervene when there is suspicion or there is a clear violation. Police still have to follow the rules during the blockade such as social distancing and wearing masks.

One day I went to the market and saw an exchange that was… funny. The policeman is standing in line waiting to buy meatloaf from a Vietnamese restaurant (meat bread here is very famous). He reminded the people in front of him to remember to stay 1.5 meters apart. A young girl (probably Vietnamese) standing in front of him turned around and reminded him, “Hey! I’m not wearing a mask!” The policeman laughed, raised his finger in praise, and said: “I’m sorry, I forgot. Good one!”

In Sydney, leaders spend about an hour a day holding press conferences and reporting to the public on the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. They also report on what the government is doing and will do. Not only do they report, they also have to answer questions from the media. Well, there are people in the Western media who are very… difficult.

I remember in a press conference, the Premier of Victoria was upset and said that he did not understand why Victorians took to the streets to protest and protest. Then he asked, “Who are they against, who are they against?”

A journalist in a press conference succinctly said: “YOU”.

It means that they are against you, not against anyone. The Prime Minister appeared confused, and did not know how to answer.

2. Vietnam-style blockade

I don’t know how the blockade regulations in Ho Chi Minh City are, but listening to friends in the country talking, reading newspapers and watching video clips, I find it too harsh. The alleys are fenced with barbed wire, the familiar streets of the city are barricaded with iron. Not only that, they also set up guard posts (apparently 24/24), with people in paramilitary clothes wearing red bands (reminiscent of the days after 1975).

Zinc spikes imprison residents. There’s even a red sign with yellow letters!

In theory, people are allowed to leave their homes if there is an emergency or medical need. But in reality, that doesn’t seem to be the case. That’s why the story of architect Ngo Viet Thu’s daughter died at home because she couldn’t go to the emergency room. That’s why a person in Hanoi (?) died of appendicitis because he couldn’t go to the hospital.

Those are just a few cases reported on the ‘public media’ network, I don’t suspect that in reality there are many such cases. No one knows how many people have been unjustly killed during the blockade because of rigid regulations or because people have rights but lack a heart to empathize with people’s suffering.

The general rule is set by the government, but when it comes to the locality, there are places that understand each other differently and torment the common people. The story that bread is not an essential food in Nha Trang only shows the surface of a phenomenon of abuse of power by local authorities across the country.

In Vietnam, the police and civil defense already have many rights, but during the epidemic and blockade season, they have even more rights. They can stop the doctor’s car on the way to the emergency and carelessly make it difficult for the victim. Their attitude seems to show that they don’t care much about the consequences: their actions can lead to the death of others.

There are video clips about arresting people suspected of being infected which are very offensive. One person probably couldn’t stand life in the concentrated isolation area, so he went out, and so a group of dozens of public servants chased and caught him. Then the scene of a group of public servants aggressively smashing into people’s houses just to catch a woman in there on suspicion of being ‘F0’. Looks very tragic and no different from Wuhan.

As far as I know, in Ho Chi Minh City people are not allowed to go out of the house to go to the market, but some people go to the market. As a result, the profession of ‘shipper’ was born and there were many tragic stories about going to the market of civilian and military shippers.

3. Unusual anti-epidemic method

Looking back, I see that the anti-epidemic method in Vietnam has the main characteristics: militarization and publicisation, formalization, and achievement.

militarization

This is shown quite clearly through similes and language. People talk about schools as ‘anti-epidemic fortresses’, but the meaning is unknown. Villages and towns are also fortresses!

Vietnamese people often say “Fighting the epidemic is like fighting the enemy”, but perhaps few people take the time to think about whether this sentence is reasonable or not. Obviously not. The virus is not an enemy in the sense that the ‘enemy’ intentionally attacks and destroys us. Viruses are an incredibly evolved microorganism, and they attack us through… us. That is, through people. They must spread, replicate, and spread further. They compete with us for survival, and the way they compete is evolutionary.

In Vietnam, the police appear anytime and anywhere during the blockade. Can’t see the people, only the police. It seems that anti-epidemic in Vietnam is the police.

policing

The image of the epidemic in Vietnam during the blockade season is … the police. It seems they are present everywhere and all the time. Of course, the police and police have an important role to play in maintaining government lockdown regulations. In democratic countries, policemen are service workers. But in Vietnam, police and police are not services, but paramilitary.

And, with their authoritarian mentality, they can cause problems for many people. And now the ‘passport’ thing gives the police the right to cause trouble for more people. Instead of focusing on fighting the virus and controlling the epidemic, people use the police to control the people.

People are infected and need to be treated, but for the police they only have ‘peeling’ and ‘separating’. That is, they dehumanize the patient. Using the police to control public health is never a good policy, because public health belongs to the health sector, not the police.

Formalization

Many stories about formalization can be told in this epidemic. Typically, bringing some students from abroad into Saigon to fight the epidemic, while in Saigon, there are many students and highly experienced private health professionals who have not been requisitioned. Then, people do things like raise their fists in the plane, like a group fighting to ‘liberate the South’.

Along with formalization is propaganda. Propaganda is said to be the ‘vocation’ of some missionaries, but propaganda during the epidemic season seems to have many funny things. The image of soldiers buying food and pushing carts to distribute food does not convince anyone but also impresses with formalization and propaganda. The funnest thing is that the musicians also thought of the program ‘Sing over Covid’ (probably imitating the old ‘Sing over the bomb’?) and they created songs with very silly and simple lyrics. customary. But maybe that’s just a sign of achievement.

Achievement

Not long ago a video clip went viral in which a provincial leader threatened his subordinates that if he let the area become yellow (or red?) he would discipline them all. Then there are places where people assign the locality to test how many people each day. That is, instead of pursuing the goal of epidemic control, people pursue numbers to record achievements. Well, everyone knows that when a goal is turned into a number, that goal has no real meaning anymore.

Perhaps many of you will say that Sydney cannot be compared with Ho Chi Minh City because there are so many differences in population density, economy and culture. This is true, but not enough. It is not enough because the question is ‘should blockade or not?’ Some people often use the excuse that Vietnamese people are very ‘stubborn’, so they have to take strong measures, don’t do it like Sydney, it will be chaotic. This type of explanation is certainly favored by the authorities, but that is only an assumption. People often say ‘like the government, that’s the government’, but I think ‘like the government, that’s the people’.

More than 100 years ago Governor-General of France Paul Giran remarked that the Annamites are very patient and tolerant. He explained that because of their good tolerance, the Annamites did not have the will to resist. They (the Annamites) are very afraid of power, very submissive to the powerful, even the person with the lowest authority. Giran also remarked that the Annamites were emotionless and apathetic. He took the case of leprosy patients ‘being driven out of the house like animals’ to illustrate indifference. Looking at the situation of people infected with the virus being treated today in Vietnam is no different.

In short, as you can see, there are many differences in terms of blockade between Sydney and Ho Chi Minh City. Sydney’s blockade in my opinion is quite gentle, but in Ho Chi Minh City, it is too harsh. The way to fight the epidemic in Sydney is medicalized, and in Ho Chi Minh City, it is police. Sydney is only interested in substance, while Vietnam is focused on propaganda and form. The blockade in Sydney is travel restrictions, but in HCM it is confinement. Therefore, it is not surprising that French journalists liken Hanoi to an open-air prison!

Of course, Sydney and Ho Chi Minh City may have very different political regimes, but fighting the epidemic is a matter of public health rather than politics. To police and propagate a public health issue is outmoded. Don’t let international observers see Vietnam as a backward country.

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