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Saigon Allows Takeaway Again, but Few Vendors Can Afford to Reopen

Bún riêu, bún thịt nướng, phở, bánh mì, cơm tấm, we’ve missed you.

On September 7, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee released a new set of guidelines regarding commercial activities in the city, including some new policies that have inspired both excitement and worry. The updated regulations took effect immediately.

As Tuoi Tre reports, Saigon authorities have greenlit the reopening of a few categories of businesses, including F&B services, communication services, office goods stores, and school supply stores. The latter groups are in response to the start of the new school year and the need for virtual learning. Approved businesses can take orders from 6am to 6pm, but can only do in-district deliveries.

Moreover, to operate, stores must make arrangements for staff in accordance with “three in place” regulations announced in July, mandating companies to let workers sleep, eat and work at the workplace. Businesses can apply for intra-city travel permits if workers have received at least one vaccine shot and agree to undergo a COVID-19 test every two days.

In addition, grocery shops, convenience stores, supermarkets, medical supply stores, pharmacies and their employees are allowed to work from 6am to 9pm — three hours more than in previous weeks.

While this might seem like good news for Saigoneers hungry for a bowl of bún bò or phở, the stringent rules and some logistical challenges are discouraging many food vendors from getting out of hibernation.

Long, a cafe owner in District 11, told Zing that the commercial prospects are not bright enough to get his cafe running again. The costs for employees to live at the shop are daunting for him, while in-district orders alone can’t generate profit. “These regulations are only feasible for family businesses,” he lamented.

Inadequate and expensive ingredient supply is another crucial factor deterring restaurateurs from making food. Nguyễn Minh Hoàng, a cơm tấm vendor, shared with Tuoi Tre that she doesn’t have the travel permit to source vegetables and meat from Bình Điền wholesale market, and she can’t shop at supermarkets due to inflated prices.

“Even buying groceries for my own family from the supermarket is already challenging, not to mention my customers can’t afford expensive food and the cost of COVID-19 tests,” she explained. Her eatery’s main demographic is factory workers from nearby industrial parks, but due to the pandemic, many of them have left Saigon for their hometowns.