Novel coronavirus has Vietnam families hunting daycare

By Hai Hien   February 5, 2020 | 01:29 am PT
As schools close, Tuan drove 100 kilometers through the night to fetch his mother, who helps look after his children while he’s at work.

"Our family's helper quit before the Lunar New Year break, so we have no one looking after the kids," Tuan said, explaining why he had to drive to northern Hai Duong Province on Sunday night to pick up his mom.

The father of two complained Hanoi education department decision was issued too late, giving many families no time to prepare.

At the residential building where Tuan lives, numerous parents were struggling to make suitable arrangements for their kids during the next seven days.

Ho Phuong, Tuan's neighbor, also resorted to her parents. However, instead of picking up her "saviors", Phuong had to take her children to her hometown in northern Ha Nam Province on Monday morning.

She agrees with the authorities' decision to protect children's health, adding the late notice did, however, put her into a spin.

A student at a secondary school in Hanois Nam Tu Liem District did not know about the closure notice until Monday morning. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Hien.

A student at a secondary school in Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District only learnt of the closure Monday morning. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Hien.

At 8 p.m. on Sunday, Hanoi's Department of Education and Training issued a notice, granting a week off starting Monday to 2 million students to keep them from being exposed to the coronavirus.

Besides Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City as well as many other cities and provinces across the country have announced plans to extend the Tet break for students by at least two days, including northern Vinh Phuc Province, alongside central Thanh Hoa and Khanh Hoa provinces, which have confirmed cases of infection.

Not many parents were as lucky as Tuan and Phuong to find suitable care givers.

Hai Minh, from Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District, asked her pregnant sister for help, who agreed to look after her 7-year-old nephew and another child.

"My sister is taking care of her own child. I cannot ask her to take responsibility for two other kids too."

In Hai Ba Trung District, following the announcement last night, residents decided via a private group chat to hire a carer for all their children, hosted in the largest apartment in the building.

60-year-old To Lan, a retired teacher living nearby, did not miss the chance to offer her help. Seeing her neighbors in a difficult spot, she decided to work as a carer from 8 a.m to 6 p.m daily at the rate of VND180,000 ($8).

Many families searched for professional services, which would cost them up to VND400,000 ($17) per session, according to Nga, who wanted to assist her neighbors and earn some money.

In many households, the situation is so "serious" parents have to take time off work to stay home.

Children play chess in a teachers house in Hanois Nam Tu Liem District. Photo by Toan Ha.

Children play chess in a carer's house in Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District. Photo by VnExpress/Toan Ha.

Tuan Linh in Hanoi's Dong Da District and his wife decided the one who earned least would stay home with their children. His neighbors take turns to look after their 8-year-old.

Several companies have shown their support by allowing employees to bring their children to work.

At a media firm on Cau Giay Street, many youngsters followed their parents to the office on the first working day of February, playing under the watchful eyes of two carers.

"We told them to be quiet and not bother anyone," said Linh, a human resource officer. She added that this way parents do not have to worry about their kids back at home.

Other corporations have allowed employees to work from home to spend time with their minors.

To Thao, employed at a tourism firm, this is supposed to be the busiest time of the year, but the nCoV outbreak has prevented many from traveling, giving her more time with her children.

"My boss is sympathetic since I have two young kids, and I am allowed to work remotely. Looking after them and working at the same time is challenging, but everything is for their benefit," she said.

Thao hopes the epidemic will be over soon, and that things could return to their normal orbit.

Another IT firm in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District said on Monday morning that women staff in the content team could work remotely. It has also told them to keep the company regularly updated on their health status. People with fever or cough will be checked by the firm’s medical team.

In Ho Chi Minh City too, many companies are allowing women employees who have children to look after to work remotely this week.

Vietnam's government declared the novel coronavirus an epidemic on Saturday. As of Wednesday morning, the country confirmed 10 infection cases. Three have been discharged from hospital.

The death toll from the epidemic has reached 492, with 490 dying in mainland China, one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong.

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