Student volunteers hunt down passengers linked to Covid-19

By Thuy Quynh   March 24, 2020 | 04:43 pm PT
College students have spent the past 10 days tracking passengers on flights carrying Covid-19 infected based on information provided by airlines.

Dinh Thu Trang, 20, a sophomore student at Hanoi University of Public Health, received a notification from the Ministry of Health at her rented room on the morning of March 14, stating the Covid-19 task force were seeking volunteers. She quickly filled out and submitted the online application without knowing which "task" she would be assigned.

Trang and 23 other students from the Hanoi University of Public Health reported to the ministry's office the next day and underwent two hours of training.

"I thought we would be helping front line task forces and first responders handle infected patients. I did worry about getting infected and accepted the risks. Turns out I had nothing to worry about."

Trang's group was in charge of finding and contacting passengers aboard Covid-19 infected flights based on information provided by airlines between March 6-17. She said volunteers from her school were assigned to the Prevention and Control Task Force under the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control.

Volunteer students pose with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (middle). Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

Volunteer students pose with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (middle). Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

Due to job requirements, the number of volunteers eventually shrank to 14, which inevitably increased the workload.

At 7:30 a.m., Trang arrived at International Convention Center, where a large room had been divided into specialized sections, and started calling those on the provided list.

"In some cases, we could contact passengers right away. Talking to foreigners and those who did not want to participate proved challenging."

"One time, I called a hotel trying to track some passengers and was informed the group had just left, which was very frustrating," she added.

The army of 14 volunteers had to contact passengers on multiple flights, each carrying around 200-300 travelers. Trang described her work station as a "hotline customer service" with everyone constantly on the phone.

Trang’s workstation is a hive of activity. Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

Trang’s workstation is a hive of activity. Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

A simple case will take Trang between five to seven minutes, including calling and explaining the situation to the passenger, before reporting to the local health agency.

Trang said their main goal is to find passengers quickly, especially those who had close contact with patients, because "if a passenger is accidentally infected it could lead to a stream of consequences."

According to schedule, Trang's team work the day shift, which ends at 7 p.m., while another group from Hanoi Medical University handle the night shift. But Trang leaves around 9-10 p.m. every day due to the workload, saying she ends up phoning about 100 passengers a day on average.

"I sleep at most five hours a day. Actually, I can go home early, but if I don't do the work others have to do it. Everyone is fighting, everyone is tired, so I keep telling myself that I should keep trying harder."

Last Saturday morning, Trang said her team was able to contact passengers on 11 out of 25 flights related to infected cases while other volunteers were able to contact 85-90 percent of passengers on another 14 flights.

Vietnam has recorded 134 Covid-19 cases so far, 17 of whom have recovered and been discharged. Many of the remaining people in hospitals, are Vietnamese and foreigners arriving from Europe and the U.S.

The pandemic has thus far spread to 197 countries and territories, killing more than 18,800 people.

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