Hanoians brace for coronavirus outbreak

By Phan Duong, Trang Hien   March 14, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Canceling nearly every conceivable plan, Hanoi urbanites opted to remain indoors following confirmation of the capital’s first Covid-19 infection last Friday night.

On the afternoon of March 8, Phuong, 35, turned blue right after reading messages from a group chat with her university friends. Two days prior, she had hung out with some of them, including one who had contact with Vietnam’s 21st Covid-19 patient.

"So I am the F4 generation," she thought, referring to those suspected of having contracted the virus indirectly. Accordingly, Phuong immediately called her sister to cancel the family’s annual International Women's Day party on March 8, deciding instead to stay home in self-quarantine.

Phuong's daughter has been with her grandparents in central Thanh Hoa Province for the past three weeks, with the busy mother unable to visit.

"I would draw a lot of ridicule if I visited my hometown from an infected area," Phuong explained.

On Saturday morning, her parents in Thanh Hoa made sure their five daughters in Hanoi stayed put for the time being.

"If you need anything, we will deliver," they assured each in turn.

Residents living on Truc Bach Street move out on March 6, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Truc Bach Street residents relocate on March 6, 2020, following confirmation of Vietnam’s 17th Covid-19 case. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Many urbanites are worried about even the slightest contact with infected people. Nguyen Thanh Thao could not sleep after authorities confirmed the country's 17th Covid-19 case. Residing on Trung Van Street with a roommate whose boyfriend often hangs out on the street where "number 17" lives, Anh became a bundle of nerves.

The next morning, after cleaning her house, she entered voluntary self-quarantine for 14 days as the roommate's boyfriend started doing the same thing.

"I cancelled my plans to visit Hai Duong Province this weekend. Hanging out with my friends will also have to wait," Thao said as she stocked up on meat, peanuts, and eggs for a week’s worth of meals. Her neighbor has spent VND3 million ($130) on supplies, according to the teacher.

Owner of a Hanoi wedding studio, Tran Phuong Nga and her 5-member family had booked flights to Malaysia for mid-March to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her parents’ wedding.

"I would rather lose money than help spread the virus," said Nga, after learning about the 17th Covid-19 case.

A Times City resident brought a large bag to buy food during the night shopping rush on March 6, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

A Times City resident stocks up on necessary supplies during the panic-buying spree on March 6, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Nga’s sister had also decided to let her children stay in Vietnam instead of returning to Singapore, even though thousands of dollars would be wasted in school fees.

"Not traveling is a way to protect ourselves and our families. Doing this simple thing could reduce the burden on those forced to stay up all night or sleep in the forest to fight the epidemic," Nga commented.

Adequate protection

After two days living in fear, Khanh Huyen, 30, drew comfort from netizens suggesting Hanoians keep calm and adopt protective measures.

Residing in Hoang Mai District, Huyen experienced a few disturbing nights as her child had a weak immune system. To protect her family from the coronavirus, the mother strictly follows Ministry of Health recommendations to regularly wash hands, wear masks, and avoid crowds. 

The epidemic somehow had a positive effect on Hai Yen’s family in Hanoi’s My Dinh District. Since the outbreak, she and her husband have brought lunch to the office instead of eating out.

Yens lunch at the office on March 6. Photo courtesy of Hai Yen.

Yen's lunch at her office on March 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of Hai Yen.

Yen also carries a pack of wet and dry tissue paper, used before touching doorknobs and elevator buttons.

"I sanitize my hands back home and hang my clothes on the balcony to air out in natural light," Yen said, adding people should do everything they can to protect themselves and society instead of solely depending on the government. Yen sometimes uses a hairdryer to air out her clothes on the balcony.

Vietnam has confirmed 53 Covid-19 infections so far, but 16 of them were discharged weeks ago. The nation had gone for 22 days without a new infection before Nguyen Hong Nhung, a 26-year-old woman returning Hanoi from London on flight VN54 on March 2, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 6.

The Covid-19 outbreak has thus far spread to 145 countries and territories around the world, with the death toll climbing to over 5,400.

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