Covid-19 travel ban means bitter separation for sweethearts

By Long Nguyen   August 15, 2020 | 06:15 pm PT
Travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have separated couples around the world, many of whom are unsure when they will meet again.

Brandon Steward flew back home to the U.K. in March, hoping to return with his family a month later for his wedding with his Vietnamese girlfriend in Ho Chi Minh City.

But he has been unable to make it back since Vietnam, like many other countries, has restricted international flights with its entry suspension for foreign nationals.

Le Quynh Vi, 29, his girlfriend, is now alone in the southern Vietnamese metropolis.

"I thought we would be apart for only three weeks before starting our married life, but it has been almost six months and we can’t tell when we will see each other again," she said.

A couple pursuing a long-distance relationship communicates via video call. Photo by Shutterstock/chalermphon_tiam.

A couple pursuing a long-distance relationship communicates via video call. Illustration photo by Shutterstock/chalermphon_tiam.

The couple is among many around the world who are separated from each other due to the travel restrictions, an ordeal most must have never experienced before.

Newly married Hanoian Le Hoai An, whose husband is stranded in Berlin in his native Germany, said: "We did not plan for this long separation, and being apart for several months is such a torture for us... We feel like we can do nothing to be together."

Her mother passed away in June, and she has had see a psychiatrist to cope since her husband "is not able to support and hold me every day."

In the Facebook group "Vo Viet Chong Tay" (Vietnamese Wives and Foreign Husbands) with almost 9,000 members, many people share their separation pangs and depression, and express the fear that since Covid-19 is still raging seeing their loved ones could be a pipe dream until next year.

Nguyen Vivi, one of them, said: "I will give birth soon and have not seen my husband for six months. I am so stressed."

Some separated couples are seeing their child delivery plans upset.

Nhi Nguyen and her fiancé, Wilson Hicks, are excited to welcome their first child in September. But while she is alone and will give birth by herself in a Saigon hospital, he will not be able to hold his daughter when she is born. He is stranded in the U.S. after a business trip in March.

Hicks, 42, lamented: "She told me she was pregnant and the next thing [I know] is that she is going to give birth. And, I won’t be able to help her when she is at home with the infant; it makes me feel bad and disappointed."

He has tried to book tickets to return to Vietnam to be with his wife, but all the flights got canceled due to the Covid-19 travel restriction. Nhi plans to deliver and make a video call for him to see their baby.

We will meet again

Many people are joining online groups like "Vo Viet Chong Tay" and "Couples Separated By Travel Bans" on Facebook, which have been asking governments to ease travel restrictions and allow international couples to reunite.

As of August 11 nine European countries have opened their borders to citizens' foreign partners as long as they can prove their relationship and comply with testing and quarantining rules.

"But it will take me another month to get all the documents ready and even more for the visa interview," An said.

Paying a visit to Germany is the only way for her to meet her husband since Vietnam still does not allow most foreigners in.

"This is our only hope."

She is collecting old receipts, flight tickets, photos, etc. to prove their relationship.

But for many other separated couples in countries that have not opened their borders, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

There have been some sad endings too.

Pham Thanh Thao, 32, had not met her Australian boyfriend, a lawyer who regularly visited Hanoi, since last December.

The hotelier had planned to apply for a skilled worker visa to reunite with him, but Australia's ban since March on foreigners’ entry put paid to those plans.

Thao said: "We did not know when we can meet again, so we decided to break up in June. It was devastating."

She had quit her job in March since the plan was to go to Australia in summer. They had hoped to get through the uncertainty but failed, she said with a sigh.

But many other couples remain hopeful and in touch with each other.

Nhi eats lunch at noon every day while chatting with Steward, who has just woken up more than 10,000 km away.

"We try our best to talk whenever we can to feel less distanced in the last few months," she said.

They met each other at a Saigon English language center four years ago, and had decided to move to the U.K this autumn after getting married in Vietnam.

"The only thing I want is to be with him and overcome this pandemic together. We can do the Covid-19 test, self-quarantine or whatever we have to do to be together."

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