ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now let's head to Vietnam, where the coronavirus lockdown is easing. Restaurants and some other businesses are opening, though most schools remain closed. The Southeast Asian nation has just 270 confirmed cases and no deaths. Mass quarantine and aggressive contact tracing have helped convince authorities it's time to ease restrictions. Michael Sullivan reports.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Vietnam has fought and beaten many aggressors in the last thousand years or so - the Chinese, the French and, of course, the Americans. And it's couched its response to the coronavirus in military terms as well, calling it the spring offensive of 2020.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER VU DUC DAM: (Speaking Vietnamese).
SULLIVAN: If Vietnam and its people are united, Vietnam can win against the pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said earlier this month. If fighting COVID-19 has been a war, then we have won battles, he said, but not the entire war.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in Vietnamese).
SULLIVAN: It's early morning in central Hanoi, and hundreds stand waiting for handouts at one of the so-called rice ATMs, which have sprouted in the country's big cities. Most wait patiently. One even sings as she waits. The delivery system is simple. A plastic pipe sticking out of a makeshift panel pours about six pounds of rice into each person's bag.
(SOUNDBITE OF RICE POURING)
SULLIVAN: Seventy-five-year-old Pham Thi Xiem has been waiting for almost two hours.
PHAM THI XIEM: (Through interpreter) Life is really tough now. I am retired with no pension. My sons and daughter have lost their jobs. I came here to get rice for our next meal for all of us - my sick grandchildren, too.
SULLIVAN: The rice ATMs are privately funded by local entrepreneurs. The prime minister has pledged $2.6 billion in relief for those who need it. Pham's family hasn't seen any of it, but she's not complaining.
PHAM: (Through interpreter) The whole country is in this rough time, not just me. I have to accept reality. It's a pandemic. It's a nationwide threat.
SULLIVAN: Like many Vietnamese, her life hasn't been easy. During the war with the U.S., she remembers working to keep the Ho Chi Minh Trail clear to allow North Vietnamese troops and resupply trucks through to battle U.S. and allied forces in the south.
PHAM: (Through interpreter) I was there from 1968 to 1972. After that, I was sent to Laos and stayed in Laos for the next seven years. There was a lot of bombing.
SULLIVAN: She says her generation remembers other hard times - famine, even. But this is different, she says. No food plus the threat of disease. Her biggest complaint - the inequality between the newly rich and the poor.
PHAM: (Through interpreter) In the past, everyone was poor. Now there is the poor and the rich. The rich are surely doing better than I am. The rich - they can just stay home and relax and eat because they have cash.
SULLIVAN: The partial lifting of the lockdown means some of her children might be able to return to work soon. Until then, she'll keep coming for rice until the ATMs stop the service. That's set for April 30, the date Vietnam celebrates the end of what it calls the American war.
For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan, in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.