Babies return to Vietnam without parents over Covid-19 fears

By Phan Duong   March 17, 2020 | 08:44 pm PT
Babies return to Vietnam without parents over Covid-19 fears
Chief flight attendant Luu Phuong Anh cradles her little customer on the way from Germany to Vietnam on March 10, 2020. Photo courtesy of Anh.
There were two special guests aboard on a recent Vietnam Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Hanoi – a 2-month baby and 3-year-old sibling. 

It was cloudy in Frankfurt that afternoon. A Vietnamese couple tearfully, reluctantly, handed over their children to their grandmother.

Their busy work schedule did not allow them to return to Vietnam, although the Covid-19 was fast becoming a pandemic. Not confident about the preventive measures being taken by the host country, they asked the grandmother to come to Germany and take their children home.

On the flight across oceans, the two children fell asleep. A short while after, though the two-month baby and her three-year-old sister started to cry. It was difficult for their grandmother to comfort both at the same time. Their cries resounded loudly in the aircraft and other people turned back and frowned. The situation was uncomfortable.

To the rescue came chief flight attendant Luu Phuong Anh. A mother herself, Phuong Anh realized the two babies were hot. With their grandmother's permission, she took off their outer clothes, then cradled and comforted them. She knew that they were missing their mother. Soon after, the younger baby slept peacefully. 

She gave the baby to her grandmother and continued doing other work, but from then on, the flight crew took special care of the babies and their grandmother. Every half an hour, the attendants took turns to cradle them or entertain them with some toys. 

At 6.10 a.m. on March 10, the plane landed at the Noi Bai International Airport after a 12-hour journey. The babies and their grandmother were picked up by their family. Phuong Anh and her crew breathed sighs of relief. 

"I am concerned for the babies having to stay away from their parents," Phuong Anh said. On the car to downtown Hanoi, she kept thinking about them. The experienced flight attendant had never encountered such a situation before.

Breastmilk to bottled milk

On the afternoon of March 11, 22-year-old Nguyen Kim Chi hugged tight her 6 month-old nephew Nguyen Nhat Khanh Dang as they joined the line of people leaving the quarantine zone in Son Tay, Hanoi. 

After they got out, she immediately boarded a flight to central Vinh Town and from there, took a car to their hometown in central Ha Tinh Province.

For a fortnight, Khanh Dang had been living with another aunt. His parents are in Busan, South Korea, 4,000 km away. The father is a factory worker, and the mother hasn't got back to work after maternity leave. Their initial plan was to send Khanh Dang back to Vietnam in April.

But the novel coronavirus had other plans. 

In mid-February, when the outbreak in South Korea got serious, many Vietnamese working and studying there got afraid and returned to Vietnam. But, "my sister and brother-in-law can't go back because they have to work. So they had to send the baby back along with an aunt," Chi said. 

Khanh Dang had to leave his mother while he was still dependent on breastmilk. He and his aunt landed at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport on February 25, and Chi was there to pick them up. But she had not realized that the baby and the aunt would have to go to a quarantine area. 

That night, Chi stayed in a guesthouse near the quarantine area in the Son Tay Military School of Hanoi. She was anxious, since the aunt was not used to taking care of him. His parents and grandparents were also worried.

"The next morning, I got permission to come inside and join them. He missed his mother and cried a lot, and I could not hold back my tears myself," she said.

Chi and 6-month-old Dang in the quarantine zone, Son Tay Military School, March 10, 2020. Photo courtesy of Chi.

Chi and 6-month-old Dang in the quarantine zone, Son Tay Military School, March 10, 2020. Photo courtesy of Chi.

Even though this was the first time Kim Chi was spending time with her nephew, they hit it off well. Khanh Dang drank bottled milk, stopped crying and slept soundly. Over the two weeks in the quarantine zone’s room 403, the boy brought joy to 17 other people in the room. In another room, was another 6-month-old baby who’d come in on the same flight.

"We got what we needed in the quarantine zone, but I wanted to go home and I know my nephew did too," Chi said. 

After reaching his home, Dang took to his grandparents and other relatives, giving much needed reassurance to his parents missing him thousands of miles away.

A Vietnam Airlines representative said that since the Covid-19 virus spilled out of Chinese borders, there were more baby customers on flights back to Vietnam. 

Apart from the babies mentioned, there were four young children and two babies on a March 5 flight from Incheon, South Korea to Van Don Airport in northern Quang Ninh Province. Their parents had to say goodbye to them in Incheon and assigned them to acquaintances on the flight to Vietnam. On the flight, medical staff and crew members took turns to take care of them. 

When the babies arrived at the Van Don Airport, their grandmother picked them up and they are in a quarantine area, following regulations. 

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