In coronavirus-hit Japan, Vietnamese dream of flying home

By Anh Ngoc   April 11, 2020 | 06:38 pm PT
In coronavirus-hit Japan, Vietnamese dream of flying home
People walk through the Narita Airport with masks following an outbreak of the new coronavirus in Japan, March 9, 2020. Photo by Reuters.
Amid financial difficulties and rising Covid-19 fears, many Vietnamese in Japan are begging the government to come home.

Duy Minh, a worker in Japan’s Saitama Prefecture, has been out of a job for nearly a month and is struggling to cover daily expenses.

"I just wanted to return to Vietnam, but can’t," said Minh, who has worked for an automobile insulation company the past four years.

He started experiencing a headache, chest pain, shortness of breath and fever on March 13, despite having persistently worn a mask and sanitizing his hands.

After declaring his health status, the company suggested he go for a check-up. "I was given a throat exam, had my blood pressure and heart checked, and was provided medicine," Minh said.

The medical facility didn’t let him take a Covid-19 test, however.

"I no longer have a fever, but I still cough, experience headaches and have difficulty breathing. Without a test I have no idea if I’ve contracted Covid-19."

Still haunted by fear, Minh received news his company had temporarily suspended operations, leaving him without an income.

He normally earns VND40 million ($1,689) a month, with half going to rent and meals and the other to his family in Vietnam.

"I just brought my wife to Japan when the disease broke out, so she could not find a job. Both our children are at their grandparents' house. My father’s health is weak, so my mother runs the household," he said.

Minh, alongside other Vietnamese facing the same fate, called on the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan to help them fly home, but were told to await an official announcement.

Vietnam has suspended all inbound flights from April 1-15, with the country entering a 15-day nationwide social distancing campaign.

Thanh Hai, a Vietnamese trainee in Sano City of Tochigi Prefecture, spent a total VND27 million ($1,140) on air tickets, with flights thrice canceled and no refund in sight.

"Since the end of February, due to the fast-spreading pandemic, unemployment and an expired visa forced me to surrender to the Japanese Immigration Department, asking to be returned to Vietnam," Hai explained.

"However, after being questioned about my job and place of residence etc., I was told to wait another month to leave Japan."

One of Hai's compatriots said he had also spent around VND 40 million on airline tickets, but could not fly due to cancellations.

Thousands of Vietnamese have expressed their desire to the Vietnamese Embassy to return home. However, they were informed only those with expired visas, pregnant women, the elderly, and young children, will be given priority at this stage.

"I have been out of a job for a month and a half and do not have much money. My flight was rescheduled for May 2, but I am not sure I could fly home," he stated.

On April 7, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, urging residents to stay home and closing all business services and entertainment facilities.

As of Sunday, Japan has reported over 6,700 infections that claimed 108 deaths.

With the Covid-19 pandemic having spread to 210 countries and territories, claiming over 108,800 lives, Vietnamese in Japan are eager to return home since the Japanese government lags in deploying measures appropriate to the crisis.

"Unfortunately, I am infected with Covid-19, but have no idea whether to be tested or treated," Hai said.

Kieu Minh, an overseas student in Tokyo, burst out in tears after failing to reach the medical hotline. Last week, she suddenly developed a cough and high fever that lasted four days, and sometimes hit 38.9 degrees Celsius.

After taking medicine, employing cooling towels and drinking ginger-infused water, Minh called the largest hospital in the district to be told they did not carry out Covid-19 tests. After persistent inquiries over three hours, she finally found a hospital that did.

At the hospital, Minh noticed how under protected doctors and medics were, wearing little more than masks, and raising her fears of transmission.

After testing, she was prescribed antipyretics and oral antibiotics for five days, then asked to go home. In case she tested Covid-19 positive, the hospital would call her. If negative, she would receive her results by post.

"I did not hear anything after seven days, which made me think I had tested negative, "Minh said.

In early March, as Japan recorded over 100 Covid-19 infections, Minh had no intention of returning to Vietnam, employed part-time during her spring break at two restaurants.

While at work, she alone wore a mask while serving customers.

With one restaurant since shut, Minh quit over a month ago to avoid contracting Covid-19. About to pay tuition, and with her family’s business struggling in Vietnam, she is increasingly worried.

"Actually, we are mainly confused," Minh confessed. "Many Japanese tell me not to fuss, that  I would be treated and that youth were safe from. Still, I know I have to care for myself."

"Besides going to the supermarket, I just stay home and wait for government announcement," she said. "For now, I am selling phones online to  cover my daily expenses."

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