Coronavirus causes novel dilemma for Vietnamese students in South Korea

By Thuy Quynh, Thuy Anh   March 6, 2020 | 12:55 am PT
Coronavirus causes novel dilemma for Vietnamese students in South Korea
A woman wearing a mask to prevent the coronavirus uses her mobile phone at a shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, February 24, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji.
Vietnamese studying in South Korea are struggling to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak, even after returning home. 

Phuong Mai, 27, sitting in an isolated room at Vietnam-Czech Friendship Hospital, northern Hai Phong City, has a litany of complaints. 

On February 25, she returned to Vietnam from Gyeongju, 80 km from epidemic hotspot Daegu, after the situation in South Korea worsened. 

"When I returned home, there were over 800 diagnosed cases in South Korea, yet Gyeongju locals seemed oblivious, saying there was no need to worry. 

"Forget about medical masks - eat out! Maybe only Vietnamese are worried about South Korea," some told her.

When she left, no one checked her body temperature at the airport. On landing in Vietnam, passengers on flights from South Korea were separated. Each had to complete a health declaration and undergo a full checkup. 

Mai thinks such measures are necessary, especially amid the rapid spread of Covid-19. Though her test results returned negative, she decided to be quarantined to assure her wary neighbors and family.

Room and board fit for quarantine at Vietnam Czech Friendship Hospital in Hai Phong. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Mai.

Room and board fit for quarantine at Vietnam Czech Friendship Hospital in Hai Phong City. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Mai.

"Getting quarantined did not end the problem. Many people gossiped when they saw me being picked up by an ambulance, posting on Facebook that I was infected!" she commented. 

Mai likens quarantine to an "in-house vacation." She gets regular visits from nurses and doctors, her food is nutritious and she has a lot of free time to walk around, read, exercise, and surf the Internet. 

While 14-day quarantine is pretty long, it is not as bad as people think, she said. She is only sad about the rumors spread by people back home. 

Unlike Mai, many other Vietnamese students in South Korea do not dare return, afraid they might infect their relatives or due to visa and school restrictions. One of them is Ngoc Quynh, 24, who lives in Busan, nearly 100 km from the worst-hit area.

"I don't intend to return home because I am worried about infecting my loved ones. Moreover, it's not safe to travel on public transport or go to airports, so the best thing is to stay put in my room," she stated. 

The streets of Busan are nearly deserted. Many shops are closed and people have stopped going out and using public transport. 

One time Quynh stayed in her house for five days straight, going out only to buy food and take out the trash. When it became too claustrophobic, she would go out onto the balcony for a while. 

When asked whether she plans to return to Vietnam for safety, she shakes her head: "I can't go back since the airfare is too expensive. If I go back, I will be quarantined for 14 days. My class begins on March 16, and I will miss it."

Pham Minh Nguyet, 24, a student in Suwon, one of the major ‘entertainment’ hubs in South Korea, said: "Since the city reported infections, local Vietnamese want to return home, but are afraid of affecting their families." 

In the crowded city, everyone is careful to wears masks, with hand sanitizers available at bars and public areas. 

"The Suwon government keeps sending out warnings prompting anyone who experiences suspected symptoms to immediately contact the local hotline and proceed to hospital. Many activities like graduation and opening ceremonies have been temporarily suspended." 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam said around 200,000 Vietnamese nationals live in South Korea, 8,285 in Daegu City and 18,502 in North Gyeongsang Province.

Vietnam has recorded a total of 16 Covid-19 patients, all of whom have recovered and been discharged from hospital. The country has reported no new infections since February 13.

go to top