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Expats join frontlines in Covid battle

By Long Nguyen, Le Phuong   October 15, 2021 | 04:52 pm PT
Foreigners have been doing charitable work to help disadvantaged people cope with the Covid-19 hardships, but some also joined the frontlines.

Wearing protective gear, resident doctor Khamsouk Luangphommaseng entered the treatment area for Covid-19 patients at a field hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

It was the fifth day at the facility for the Laotian, who had earlier done similar work for two months at Cho Ray Hospital.

"I want to support my colleagues and share their burdens, and help patients return to normal life," the 29-year-old says fluently in Vietnamese.

Working on the frontline in the Covid battle also helps him learn, he says.

Khamsouk is among many foreigners who have joined the frontlines forces in Covid epicenter HCMC.

Doctor Khamsouk Luangphommaseng. Photo by VnExpress/An My

Doctor Khamsouk Luangphommaseng. Photo by VnExpress/An My

He has been living in Vietnam for almost a decade, graduating from the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Thua Thien-Hue Province before working as a doctor of internal medicine at Cho Ray.

When Covid resurged in the southern metro in April, he immediately signed up to assist in examining, classifying and treating patients.

After working in the emergency area at Cho Ray in August, the peak of the outbreak in HCMC, he says he was shocked by the number of new cases.

During the recent outbreak, Cho Ray has admitted critically ill patients, most of them needing oxygen support.

Khamsouk has had to get used to pressures and emotions he has never experienced before.

"Many patients’ health worsened rapidly, requiring doctors and nurses to provide timely treatment," he says.

When things eased up at Cho Ray Hospital, he registered to work as a volunteer at the field hospital, which has a capacity of 800 beds and more than 400 patients.

The city’s largest field hospital has treated more than 3,700 patients since mid-July.

Khamsouk plans to go home to visit his family when the pandemic is contained before returning to complete his 18-month residency at Cho Ray.

Bophathom Vann takes nose swabs from a motorbike taxi driver in HCMC, Sept 2021. Photo courtesy of Bophathom Vann

Bophathom Vann takes nose swabs from a motorbike taxi driver in HCMC, Sept 2021. Photo courtesy of Bophathom Vann

Also yearning to see her family is Bophathom Vann, a Cambodian medical student in Can Tho who has also been a frontline worker in HCMC.

The Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy student was helping contact trace people who might have contracted Covid in Can Tho before registering to work in HCMC.

When they knew the 23-year-old would work in the pandemic epicenter, her parents were initially worried. But convinced them, saying a medical student like her must protect the health of the community.

In HCMC, she worked in a team collecting samples from local residents for testing. Every day, starting at around 8 a.m., she would take up to 500 samples and record data.

She also helped charitable groups distribute food to people living in locked-down areas.

"I was a little worried but not afraid," she tells VnExpress International.

"Helping HCMC screen Covid-19 cases for timely treatment is crucial, so I did not hesitate before joining this battle."

Like Khamsouk, Vann too says Vietnam is her second home and so wants to contribute to the Covid battle and help bring back normalcy as soon as possible.

When HCMC lifted its four-month lockdown and started resuming economic activities on Oct. 1, Vann returned to Can Tho.

"My greatest joy when I worked in Saigon was seeing negative test results. Now I hope I will also test negative when I finish my quarantine."

She plans to focus on her lessons now and visit her family in Cambodia after the pandemic is gone.

Other foreigners joined the battle by doing charitable work to support disadvantaged people.

In Saigon, Indian restaurant owner Robin Deepu, Briton teacher Percy Smith, French businessman Gaveau Patrick, Australian businessman Trevor Long, and others cooked food for thousands of needy people and frontline workers during the lockdown.

"Working as a frontline worker has shown me how kind and brave Vietnamese are," Vann says. "I hope everyone will strictly observe preventive measures to keep the pandemic at bay."

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