Covid-19 lockdown shows no mercy to Vietnam's poor

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Covid-19 lockdown shows no mercy to Vietnam's poorChurch charity extends a helping hand to Ho Chi Minh City's underprivileged communities.

With a mask on his face, Ho Minh Hoang desperately showed a book of raffle tickets to passersby. The 52-year-old street vendor, who is paralyzed in both legs, wipes sweat from his brow as he sits in a wheelchair. He has sold lottery tickets for a living for 20 years since his parents died.

“Few people buy tickets as they are afraid of becoming infected with the coronavirus,” he said. He usually earns about 200,000 dong (US$8.60) a day selling lottery tickets.

“Today is the last day I can sell tickets as the government will shut down lottery ticket companies for two weeks,” he told UCA News.

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc asked lottery ticket companies to suspend services for 15 days starting on April 1 to prevent the spread of the virus.

Few people venture out of their homes in Ho Chi Minh City due to the government’s social distancing campaign to stem the pandemic.

Hoang said many lottery ticket sellers had returned to their home provinces because they have no money to cover their daily needs in the city.

“I am illiterate and have a physical disability and I do not know how to overcome these difficult times,” said Hoang, who lives with 30 relatives in a 56-square-meter shelter.

Nguyen Van Dung, a motorcycle taxi driver, said his income has dropped sharply since the viral outbreak hit the city in February. He said people limit their travel and work from home after all the schools and shops were closed, so there are few passengers.

“This morning I earned no money. How can I pay the rent?” the 54-year-old father of one told UCA News, adding that in the past he earned 400,000 dong a day transporting people and goods.

“We plan to return to our home in Binh Dinh province by motorbike and stay there until the pandemic ends to avoid high expenses in the city,” said Dung.

Unemployment set to surge

Lottery ticket sellers include old and disabled people and those who have jobs and are homeless. Many are from other provinces. There is no official record of the number of ticket vendors in the country’s largest city.

The ministry of labor, war invalids and social affairs estimates up to 1.32 million people will suffer a reduction of working hours or lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

More than 47,000 people applied for the dole in February and unemployment figures are expected to surge in the coming months.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, chairman of the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, said the government will offer material support to lottery ticket sellers who have to stop work for two weeks due to the pandemic.

“They earn their daily bread by selling tickets and many of them have to send money home to support their families. We have to help them,” he said at a meeting.

On March 31, Father Vincent Vu Ngoc Dong, head of Caritas in Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, said lottery ticket sellers and street food vendors as well as those who collect used items will face enormous difficulties earning a living during the Covid-19 pandemic. Caritas will provide aid during these difficult times.

“We will offer them 50,000 dong a day for two weeks as a way to show Christian solidarity with them,” said Father Dong.

He called on parish priests to identify people who need help and donations from Caritas from April 2-4.

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City said he is concerned about daily wage earners as non-essential services in the city have been closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

He said local benefactors had agreed to supply 5,000 food servings per day to those in need and the project will start this weekend. He hopes other benefactors will join the project.

The prelate said the city is home to millions of workers, so landlords should allow their tenants to delay rent payments or offer one month’s accommodation for free. They should also provide free power, water and even daily food.

“All those who have comfortable lives should help those in need to overcome these difficult times when we should spread Christian love, charity and generosity in society,” he said.