Returning students face cold embrace amid Covid-19 suspicions at home

By Long Nguyen   April 7, 2020 | 11:39 pm PT
Returning students face cold embrace amid Covid-19 suspicions at home
A group of Vietnamese students return to HCMC from the U.S. on March 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Thao.
Many Vietnamese students abroad think twice before returning home amid the pandemic due to the possible cold reception at home.

After spending two weeks in a quarantine facility in Hanoi, Nguyen Thanh Huong, a Vietnamese student in the U.K., finally returned home last week.

However, some of her neighbors expressed displeasure.

"They try to avoid contact with my parents even though I tested negative. Some even told my family to stop using the elevator," said the bemused student.

Huong had canceled all European travel plans to return home after the pandemic crippled the region.

With novel coronavirus infections in many countries outnumbering those in Vietnam, thousands of Vietnamese students have tried to head home. 

Vietnam has confirmed 251 Covid-19 cases so far, and around half of them have recovered. Of the cases the country has recorded, 156 are overseas returnees.

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed more than 82,100 lives as it hit 209 countries and territories.

But at the end of a long journey, many feel unwelcome amid the rising fear of infection supposedly posed by international travelers.

"A woman next door said I was selfish for returning home from a Covid-19 hotspot. She asked my mother whether I carried the virus or showed any symptoms," Tran Tam, 25, returning to Hanoi from London, recalled.

This reaction has made many Vietnamese students think twice before coming home amid the pandemic, even their parents could not be at ease.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh, a mother in Hanoi, kept telling her 20-year-old son to return to Vietnam after the number of infections rose in Germany. The boy, residing in Hamburg, decided instead to stay put.

"He said he did not want to possibly risk carrying the virus to Vietnam and feared people would hate him if he got infected," said Anh.

Since March 21, Vietnam’s government has required all passengers arriving from abroad to automatically enter quarantine for 14 days. With thousands of arrivals each day, several quarantine camps were set up to host over 30,000 people. In Ho Chi Minh City, authorities called on the Defense Ministry to set up additional quarantine zones.

That was when overseas Vietnamese students were told not to put more burden on these facilities by returning by some netizens.

According to Hoang Thu An, a graduate student in the U.S., many Vietnamese students decided to stay behind after witnessing medics, airport staff and soldiers work around the clock to contain international arrivals.

"On social media, people were praised for helping Vietnam in its Covid-19 battle by not returning home," An recalled.

In a Facebook group for Vietnamese students in China, netizens claimed the only way to support their country was to stay put, with some asking to be repartriated critized.

This reaction and infection risks from traveling created a pressure on those who wanted to return.

"Staying here gives me peace of mind," said An.

Several Vietnamese embassies and Vietnamese communities worldwide have called for calm and for those abroad to stay put to avoid overwhelming domestic quarantine facilities with the simultaneous return of a total 190,000 Vietnamese students.

Black sheep

Some student returnees caused controversy after complaining about local quarantine facilities, often set up in former student dormitories or military camps to meet demand.

On March 20, a student returning from America posted several photos of the HCMC National University campus, saying it was "terrible" and causing outrage among Vietnamese netizens.

"This is not a vacation. You are in quarantine for the sake of your community, do not act so spoiled," one online citizen commented, forcing the student to remove her post and apologize.

Another reason was caused by families sending unnecessary things for their quarantined children.

Relatives deliver items for loved ones quarantined at the HCMC National University, March 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Relatives deliver items for loved ones quarantined at the HCMC National University, March 23, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

On March 23 and 24, thousands of locals gathered in front of the HCMC National University campus holding food and supplies for beloved ones. Fans, mattresses, fruit, and even alcohol were transported here by volunteers joining the pandemic battle.

"Those in quarantine have three meals per day supplied by authorities for only two weeks. They should be grateful instead of causing more trouble," Huong said, adding her parents returned to her hometown in northern Thai Binh Province since "they could not stop using the elevators and keep having to answer questions about their daughter."

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