Saigonese keep their shirts on regardless of coronavirus

By Long Nguyen   February 7, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Saigon's residents have tried to stay away from fear and panic caused by the nCoV outbreak across the country.

On Thursday evening, as Vietnam reported its 12th confirmed case of 2019-nCoV infection, university student Nguyen Thanh Tam and his friends enjoyed dinner in downtown Saigon.

Returning to the metropolis from his hometown in Mekong Delta last weekend, Tam decided to stay in town after learning his university granted students two weeks off amid the spreading of coronavirus.

"The epidemic is not scary if we protect ourselves sufficiently."

People gather and buy gold in HCMC on February 3. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Gold fever trumps coronavirus fears in HCMC on February 3. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Tam, making sure to wear a mask when driving and wash his hands regularly, does not avoid crowds or eating out.

He is not the only one to remain calm as the number of new pneumonia infections increase by the day.

Vietnam's government declared the novel coronavirus an epidemic last Saturday, the country reporting 12 cases of infection as of Friday.

With many fearful Vietnamese stocking up on food and face masks, a number of Saigonese have kept their shirts on during the 2019-nCoV outbreak, preventing the virus from hijacking their lives.

For some local millennials, the period following Tet (Lunar New Year) remains incomplete without parties and reunions at numerous restaurants and coffee shops across town.

"I wear a mask at work all day due to company requirements, but now I take it off. It’s only flu, plus the number of people discharged is increasing," said white-collar employee Luong Thuy An while hanging out with her mask-less colleagues at a District 3 café.

The number of clients has not lessened since people returned to work after the holiday, the only difference being more people wearing masks, said Tra My, a Starbucks employee in the same Saigon district.

For many local urbanites, shopping at local markets remains a mainstay despite the health threat, though many prefer to avoid crowds.

At Nguyen Thai Binh Market in District 1, hundreds of local housewives and sellers start their days early in the morning, seemingly oblivious to the 2019-nCoV outbreak.

"Wearing a mask will keep me safe in the market, so there’s no need to stay away or quit shopping," said 46-year-old Le Thi Trang while buying meat at the market Friday morning.

While a number of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh residents stockpile food, others maintain it’s an overreaction.

"Stocking up on food only makes increases prices," said Nguyen Thu Hoai, 34, while shopping at Lotte Mart in District 11.

Demand for meat and vegetables has increased, in part due to slack distribution following the Tet break, said a VinMart employee in Saigon's Binh Thanh District, adding increased demand for vegetables and fruits after the holiday is an annual trend.

Flu season

With flu a constant threat, especially during dry and cold weather spells, residents in the southern metropolis have reason to stay calm amid the spreading 2019-nCoV.

"Saigon's temperature normally remains over 30 degree Celsius. Staying outside is not that scary when it comes to getting infected," said 22-year-old Bui Thanh Luan, a student enjoying one week off due to the virus.

According to scientists, the virus weakens at temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius, especially when it gets above 25 degrees Celsius, amid high humidity.

Other urbanites are more positive, maintaining flu is common during winter and spring, and that the 2019-nCoV epidemic could be a warning for people to ensure proper hygiene.

People should be aware of wearing masks when sick and cleaning their hands already, and not only because of the current epidemic, according to John Steward, an American expat in HCMC.

"I panicked when reading the news during Tet, but learned to stop living in fear and follow the guidelines on healthcare and hygiene," said Huong, John's wife. She now opens the windows in their apartment each day after discovering the coronavirus fears sunlight, wind and airy spaces.

The fight is nationwide, as the global death toll from the epidemic reached 638, with 636 dying in China, one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong.

National battle

Vietnam declared 2019-nCoV an epidemic on Saturday last week, classifying it a "class A infectious disease of global emergency" transmitted via the respiratory system.

A teacher cleans her classroom in HCMC on February 2. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

A teacher sanitizes her empty classroom in HCMC on February 2. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

Besides a number of national quarantine zones, authorities have begun work on two field hospitals in HCMC, and two in Hanoi, the latter capable of treating up to 1,000 patients suspected of infection.

Any Vietnamese or foreigners entering Vietnam from China or reporting symptoms of infection will be quarantined for 14 days.

Millions of school and university students across Hanoi and HCMC are enjoying an extended Lunar New Year break following a 16-day holiday supposed to end on February 2, with some local education authorities even granting a second week off.

The unexpected break put several parents in a difficult position organizing daycare for their children while at work.

Luong Thanh An, mother of two secondary students, hopes "schools will be sanitized soon so kids could return to their lessons."

"Though 2019-nCoV can kill, panic is even more dangerous. Life must go on," she said.

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