Gathering around Hoan Kiem Lake every morning to practice dancing together is a habit for Le Van Khoa, 57, and more than 20 of his friends.
On November 18, three days after the fine for not wearing masks in public places such as airports, bus stations and supermarkets was increased by ten times to VND1-3 million ($43 – 129), none of them wear masks while dancing and chatting by the lake.
“How can we talk and breathe comfortably while dancing with a mask on our faces?” Khoa asks on behalf of his friends.
In public spots like parks and markets, people without masks, including older adults, who are vulnerable to Covid-19, can be seen everywhere.
The situation is no better at malls, where masks are mandatory for entry but many remove them once inside.
Masks are ubiquitous by their absence around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake on the morning of November 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Long Nguyen.
The first and foremost excuse for many maskless Hanoians is that Vietnam has brought the pandemic under control and the threat has passed.
“The pandemic is contained here, and we only wear masks to prevent dirt if the air is polluted, just like we did before the pandemic appeared,” Nguyen Thi Thuy, a photographer working near Hoan Kiem Lake, lamented.
Hanoi has gone almost three months without local transmission of Covid-19, while the country has gone 77 days without one.
Others, aware of the fine for not wearing masks, complain that masks make it uncomfortable to talk and eat. Many wear them while passing through checkpoints at malls and weekend pedestrians-only streets, and remove them soon after to “eat and talk.”
Many older people do not wear masks on the street on the morning of November 18. 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Long Nguyen.
According to Ngo Van Quy, deputy chairman of the city People’s Committee, people do not wear masks regularly, and with winter approaching negligence could cause new infections in the community, stymieing all efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Apart from increasing the fine for not wearing masks in public, the city also carries out checks.
In many districts, local authorities have set up teams at markets and other public spaces. On November 17, a businesswoman was fined VND2 million ($86.29) for not being unmasked at Nghia Tan Market in Cau Giay District.
The district had earlier caught many violators and collected VND184 million ($7,927) in fines. In Hoan Kiem District, 400 people were fined more than VND90 million ($3,875).
Tran Thi Nhi Ha, deputy director of the city Department of Health, said Hanoi needs to better propagate the warnings about the fines.
Khoa and his dancing friends only put on their masks when seeing local authorities come around to check.
“No one comes here from abroad; we face no risk of Covid-19,” he insists.