Medics brave inclement weather to track coronavirus

By Thuy An    February 3, 2021 | 06:26 am PT
In the middle of a cold night in pouring rain, a team of doctors and other medics used flashlights as they tracked Covid-19 suspects.

On the night of January 28, 31-year-old doctor Vu Tri Tue of the endocrinology department of the Vietnam - Sweden Hospital in Quang Ninh Province’s Uong Bi District, walked from house to house to take swab samples in Dong Trieu Town, a Covid-19 hotspot.

Several hours earlier, Vietnam had been shaken by the latest Covid-19 community transmissions in the provinces of Hai Duong and Quang Ninh, breaking a streak of 55 clean days. The outbreak has since spread to 10 localities.

That was not the first time that Tue was joining the fight against the pandemic, but it was the first time he was dealing with it an emergency situation.

"I left on the mission just 30 minutes after I was informed," Tue said. He grabbed a white blouse and phone charger as he left his wife and children.

A group of medics visits a house to collect samples and information of residents, January 28, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vietnam - Sweden Hospital.

Medics visit a house to collect samples and details of residents, January 28, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vietnam - Sweden Hospital.

His wife was pregnant when the pandemic hit Vietnam last February. During the second Covid-19 wave last summer, she gave birth to their baby, who is now six months old.

Alongside Tue was doctor Pham Thi Nhinh, 28, who also grabbed a white blouse and left home.

Normally, she would have prepared carefully and brought a lot of essential things for her work. But this time, the business trip happened when "my mind did not clearly know what was going on," Nhinh said.

She did not even have time to tell her parents about her mission, and has no idea when it will end.

Together with 20 colleagues, Tue and Nhinh were picked up by a bus and taken to Dong Trieu after dusk. They immediately put on their protective clothing and dived into their mission: dividing into small groups and visiting every household to take swab samples of every resident.

Tue said most people were cooperative, but the process was happening at night, so it was more time consuming. Some people were afraid they would be placed under quarantine before Tet, the nation’s biggest and most important festival, so they did not want to undergo any test or fill in the health declaration forms.

The doctor also said the night of January 28 was his toughest mission since the beginning of the pandemic. He and his colleagues did not eat or drink anything for nearly 10 hours because they did not want to take off their protective clothing.

"We were few but the number of new Covid-19 cases kept surging, so had to identify suspect cases quickly, reducing the workload for other frontline workers," Tue said.

Medics take a rest after their sleepless night, January 29, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vietnam - Sweden Hospital.

Medics take a rest after a sleepless night, January 29, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vietnam - Sweden Hospital.

Dong Trieu Town has a large area, and houses are normally more than 100 meters away from each other, so Tue and his colleagues used their flashlights to walk from one house to another.

After arriving at each house, he called residents to a large, open space to collect swab samples for the Covid-19 tests. Doing this indoors can pose infection risks, he explained.

Using the light coming from houses and their own cell phones, Tue and his colleagues took the swab samples and wrote down other details carefully. Their goal was to find people who’d come into close contact with identified Covid-19 patients, and those who’d come into close contact with them, before sunrise.

"At night time, we could not see each other clearly, but we maintained eye contact and visited each and every household," the doctor said. "We did it quickly, but we had to be careful and accurate."

The next morning, another 60 medics from the hospital arrived in Dong Trieu’s Nguyen Hue, An Sinh, Hong Phong and Thuy An Communes to take more swab samples and find infection cases.

In four days, 82 medics collected 5,000 samples and sent them to labs in Quang Ninh for Covid-19 testing.

For the last 10 years he has practiced as a doctor, Tue has always worked during the Tet festival break. But this year, after finishing the mission, he has to be quarantined.

"It is tough, but it is an honor to be part of the frontline forces and support people," he said.

Nhinh, meanwhile, will have her first Tet far away from home. She has always prioritized being home in Thai Binh Province before the biggest and longest holiday in the country because her mother is not keeping well.

"I love my parents, and I love people around me and those quarantined because of the pandemic, so I must try my best," she said, adding she knew many people who have been in tougher situations because of the virus.

The group of medics was a fatigued lot after four hard-working days. The feet of many were swollen after walking for too long, but they kept encouraging each other.

Ten days before the Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on February 11, Nhinh called her parents to tell them that she will not be home for the usual reunion this Tet.

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