Blues, joy in Covid-19 quarantine

By Hoang Phuong   August 28, 2020 | 12:09 am PT
Hoat woke up, texting her brother she could not return home to see her father. Two hours later, he had passed away.

Do Thi Hoat, 25, has been stuck inside a quarantine facility managed by Hanoi Military High Command in Son Tay Town alongside over 800 returnees from central Da Nang City, Vietnam's largest Covid-19 hotspot. The facility lies only five kilometers from her house, where her father has been struggling with lung cancer following hospital discharge.

"I cannot come home yet, please tell Dad not to get mad at me," she begged her brother around midnight.

Two hours later, her father, Do Van Thuy, passed away at the age of 53. In the early morning of August 16, everyone inside the quarantine facility was woken by Hoat's crying.

A person in the quarantine facility came to burn incense at a newly set up altar for Hoats father. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

An anonymous devotee burns incense for Hoat's father at a newly set up altar. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

At 4 p.m. that day, the Son Tay Military School management board set up an altar for Hoat to mourn her father. On her behalf, officials also attended his funeral in Kim Son District.

"Lung cancer can worsen quickly, the most painful thing is I could not be with him in the last moments of his life," a teary Hoat said, adding her father would have turned 54 in another month.

A day prior, she had studied his pale face during a video call, saying she wanted to go home. However, her father quickly turned down the idea: "Complete your quarantine and come home when it’s safe. I am fine, don’t worry."

Hoat had little idea it would be the last time she would see her father.

Thuy, having lost three kilograms in March, knew something was amiss with his health. It was the same period Hoat had returned to Vietnam after three years at the University of Rennes 1 in France. She arrived home just when Hanoi confirmed its first Covid-19 case (Patient 17) and had to enter self-quarantine at home under local supervision.

Late June, seeing Thuy's health improve, Hoat decided to leave for an internship at an IT company in Da Nang City. A month later, her mother texted, saying "your father is weak."

Stranded in the central city due to the new Covid-19 wave, Hoat had little choice but to wait for a special flight on August 12, evacuating hundreds of people stranded in Da Nang.

Mourning her father in quarantine, Hoat felt lucky since she was in her hometown where she could depend on tons of support.

Tap (middle) helps his children catch a grasshopper. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

Tap (middle) helps his children catch a grasshopper. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

Vietnam has seen 548 local transmission cases associated with Da Nang since July 25, when the nation confirmed its first local transmission case in over three months. The country has now recorded 1,036 cases in total, with 637 recoveries. More than 70,000 people are in quarantine.

The quarantine facility, located near a huge farm, boasts a 4,000-square-meter yard for people to hang out and play.

Nguyen Xuan Tap, from northern Bac Ninh Province, usually finished work after 5 p.m. and took his two sons out to catch grasshoppers, which in their hometown proved quite a challenge with dozens of industrial zones trampling local farms and greenery.

At the quarantine facility, Tap's sons, Bach and Tom, quickly made friends with age-mates Bin and Su. Wearing masks, they would play in the yard for hours.

"Of course it is not as comfortable as being home, but everything is okay," Tap said.

The 34-year-old, a production manager in Bac Ninh's Tien Du Industrial Zone, also has time for himself since entering the facility. While his sons are out playing, Tap would play volleyball and shuttlecock, his partner caring for their 16-month-old daughter instead of busying herself with her seafood business.

Stranded by Covid-19 in Da Nang for over a month, his parents, over 60, also get to spend more time together. Tap's mother left his father in northern Thai Binh Province to stay with her son's family in Bac Ninh ten years ago. In 2018, Tap's father moved in with another son, meaning the couple could only see each other when their sons' families are together.

People play soccer in the yard of the quarantine facility. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

People play soccer in quarantine facility yard. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phuong.

Seeing his masked parents jog each afternoon, Tap plans to organize more family reunions so their parents could spend more time together.

Enjoying an extended one-month ‘vacation’, the 11-member family knows they must stick together to overcome the new Covid-19 wave. Once their two-week quarantine period completes, Tap and his partner will spend time helping their sons prepare for a new school year, to kick off in September.

Like other tourists, Tap knows he will return to Da Nang once the pandemic is over. While stranded in the Covid-19 hotspot, he had received a lot of support from locals, including a hotel owner who let his family stay for free, and a tour guide who helped him prepare the necessary documents for evacuation.

During her last days in quarantine, Hoat has stopped weeping, worried her mother would be sad, seeing her daughter had lost weight. On the afternoon of August 26, the first thing she did after leaving the facility was visiting her father's grave.

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