HANOI (AFP) - Overlooking deserted streets, Hanoi's tiny balconies have become places of refuge as the city's locked-down residents squeeze desks, yoga mats and comfy seats for coffee drinking into their share of fresh air.
Eight million people living in the Vietnamese capital have been under a strict stay-at-home order since late July, allowed out only for trips to get food or hospital visits.
Although the lockdown is beginning to ease in some parts of the city, most residents must stay home for at least another two weeks as the nationwide death toll from Covid-19 continues to climb.
"My only connection to the outside world has been through my tiny balcony," said office worker Nguyen Xuan Anh, who lives in a high-rise residential block.
Ms Anh has squeezed a desk onto her 3 sq m balcony, once home to ornamental trees. It's small, but large enough for her to work there on a laptop and drink her morning coffee while surveying the silence of a street once jam-packed with motorbikes and cars.
"Before, I had no time to even stand for five minutes on my balcony. Now, it's become my saviour," Ms Anh told AFP.
With outdoor exercise banned, it is not uncommon to see people linger for hours in their limited outside space.
"I hide on my balcony, my corner, almost the whole day," said IT engineer Tran Trung Quan. "It's not nice to stay indoors all day, with the kids causing so much trouble that you cannot concentrate on your work."
Vietnam, widely praised last year for its handling of the pandemic, has been badly hit by Covid-19 since a fourth wave began in April. The country has reported more than 500,000 infections and over 13,000 deaths.
Several cities and provinces, including the southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City, have been under lockdown for months.
"My only wish now is the lockdown order be removed, so that I can go back to work," Ms Trung said. "It's just too much for me to handle from this tiny balcony."