Vehicles rushed out after a heavy rain on Tuesday morning, filling up a crossroad in downtown Hanoi, leaving no space even on the sidewalks.
An ambulance blared its siren in an attempt to get out of the bad traffic.
It barely moved.
Drivers said they couldn't do anything. “Look at this. No one can make way for the ambulance even if they want to,” one said.
Heavy traffic in the capital city has been stalling many ambulances and putting many lives at risk.
Doctor Dang Thanh Khan, deputy director of the 115 emergency center in Hanoi, said the average response time of ambulances in the city is 15 minutes, he said, adding that sometimes it can take one hour to reach a patient.
In other countries, the response time is not more than five minutes, he said.
Hanoi, just like other cities in Vietnam, does not have special lanes for emergency vehicles and the ongoing construction of an elevated railway has worsened the problem.
Long lines of vehicles next to the construction site of the elevated railway in Hanoi downtown. Photo credit: Dan Tri
The railway project, which has been falling behind schedule for several years, is blocking traffic on more than 20 kilometers of downtown streets, including those that lead to major hospitals.
Owner of a coffee shop outside the Central Pediatrics Hospital said traffic in the area is “terrible” all day and ambulances usually have to spend half an hour just to travel the last 100 meters to the hospital.
“I have seen a lot of fathers rushing into the hospital, carrying their children, and the mothers running behind, just because their ambulances were stuck on the road.”
Doctors said other countries are using helicopter and motorcycle ambulances to counter traffic problems. Vietnam can consider the second option, which is more affordable.
Doctor Nguyen Hoai Nam, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh Medicine University, said motorcycle ambulances have been working well in Thailand.
“The bikes can squeeze into alleys and bring paramedics and tools to the patients early,” Nam said.
Some doctors also blamed part of the problem on drivers' "poor awareness."
They said people usually blame the bad traffic, but they can still help and make room for ambulances if they really want to.
Vietnam imposes cash fines of VND500,000-1.2 million (US$22-53) on drivers who refuse to make way for emergency vehicles, but very few have been fined.
Doctors said traffic police should come with ambulance cars to help clear congestion and to punish anyone who refuses to cooperate. The 115 center in Ho Chi Minh City has started asking police officers for help.