Vietnamese living in South Africa said their lives have not been upended by the new Covid-19 variant over which many countries have imposed travel bans.
When Le Manh Hieu was having breakfast in his apartment in Pretoria, South Africa, on Dec. 2, he received a call from his friend in Vietnam.
“She called to check on me, worrying if I was safe from the new Covid variant Omicron,” he says.
He had no idea about the new strain until he received that phone call.
“I had to google what Omicron was after that call.
“Life in South Africa has been so normal that I had no idea that the world is freaking out over the new strain”.
While it caught the world by surprise and worried many people, Vietnamese in South Africa say it has had no effect whatsoever on their daily lives.
Women walk on a dirt road while using a handkerchief to cover their nose, as the new coronavirus variant, Omicron spreads, in Qumanco village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, Nov. 30, 2021. Photo by Reuters
Omicron was first identified and reported in southern Africa in late November.
The World Health Organization declared on Dec. 3 it was a variant “of concern,” warning it may spread faster than other strains.
It has been found in at least 45 countries, with the U.S. and Europe seeing an increasing number of cases in recent days.
Travel restrictions have been imposed by many countries to curb its spread.
But according to many Vietnamese residing in South Africa it has created no alarms in that country.
Nam Nguyen of Cape Town says, “Everything is normal, no one is scared”.
Restaurants and bars are operating as usual with curfew hours and restrictions, he adds.
Many are astonished by the global reaction to Omicron.
Mai Huynh of Cape Town says, “I was not stunned by it (the new variant), but I was shocked that the U.K. banned flights from South Africa”.
Nguyen Thanh Tuan, who was on a business trip to South Africa, saw his return flight to Vietnam on Nov. 27 canceled.
“People here are calm, there is no ordeal”.
There is no alarm among Vietnamese in South Africa since Omicron seems to only cause mild symptoms and has not led to a jump in death rates.
The New York Times has quoted researchers in South Africa, where the variant is spreading quickly, as saying it could cause less serious Covid symptoms than other strains of the virus.
WHO said on Dec. 3 it had not seen any reports of deaths related to Omicron.
Only about a quarter of South Africa’s 59.3 million people are fully vaccinated, and the spread of the new variant has made unvaccinated people think twice about their decision.
Huynh said that many anti-vaxxers in her city have been scared by the spread of Omicron and decided to take their shots.
“My neighbor who did not believe in vaccines took his first shot three days ago, after one of his colleagues got Omicron,” Huynh recalled.
The global reaction to Omicron poses challenges to people’s year-end travel plans.
Lien, who was hoping to return to Vietnam to see her family after the two-year-long pandemic, says the travel restrictions have delayed her family reunion.
Huynh, who is worried about restrictions and a possible new Covid variant, will also remain at home in South Africa.
Though not worried about Omicron, vaccinated Vietnamese agree they will keep taking Covid safety measures to protect themselves.
“I avoid crowds, do not take my children to the swimming pool when it is crowded and avoid sitting indoors when eating out,” Lien says.
She has a message for her family in Vietnam: Do not worry because “everything is normal in South Africa”.
Nam too says he will keep following the local government’s Covid prevention measures.
In Pretoria, Hieu avoids crowds and wears a mask when going out.
“This is the new normal because of Covid, not because of Omicron”.
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