Tet pilgrims rattled by coronavirus

By Hoang Phuong, Tat Dinh   February 3, 2020 | 05:31 pm PT
Nghi’s family of 15 considered canceling a four-day vacation in the north but then all the tickets and reservations had been paid for.

For the family from the southern city of Can Tho, sanitizer gel and expensive Japanese masks were thus indispensable.

She bought a pack of the masks and a dozen bottles of sanitizer.

Her family landed at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport on the third day of the lunar new year, wearing the masks. During their four days in the north, they traveled to numerous places and only took them in hotel rooms.

At Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District, thousands of local and foreign visitors came with their faces covered during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Tran Quoc Pagoda in the morning of January 31. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Tran Quoc Pagoda on the morning of January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Her preparations made Nghi feel safe since masks and hand sanitizers were in short supply in Hanoi after fears of the new coronavirus epidemic caused demand to skyrocket.

"The first time I come during the festival to the north and everyone is wearing masks," the woman said before heading for the airport to return home.

Pagodas and temples are not as dangerous as airports when it comes to contracting the virus, she thought.

Le Van Son, 24, and Ngo Van Ha, 26, of Hanoi’s My Duc District went to Tran Quoc Pagoda, quickly burning incense and praying before leaving.

Son and Ha wear masks while visiting Tran Quoc Pagoda. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Son and Ha wear masks while visiting Tran Quoc Pagoda. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

They did not go sightseeing since they wanted to avoid crowds. Even their masks could not put them at ease. Son, who hates wearing masks, tried to find masks with breathing valves but ended up with surgical ones.

Tour guide Dinh Thi Ha had a hard time with 28 Taiwanese travelers during New Year in the capital.

The visitors scared many Vietnamese, and the woman had to explain that they were not coming from infected areas.

"They understand the situation, wear masks all the time and avoid talking at public places," Ha, who always carried dozens of masks for her customers, said.

Not far from Tran Quoc Pagoda is Quan Thanh Temple, which attracted huge numbers of faithful wearing masks since the beginning of the New Year holidays. Tran Le Thuy, a member of the temple management board, said he has never seen such a sight before.

People wear masks at a pagoda in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

People wear masks at a pagoda in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

The ancient temple gets 130,000 visitors on average during the month before and after New Year, including an increasing number of Chinese nationals every year, according to Thuy.

During the last month of the last lunar year there were up to seven groups of Chinese visitors coming daily, and Thuy and her colleagues could do nothing to stop them from entering the temple.

Located three kilometers from Quan Thanh Temple, Tay Ho Temple receives 10,000 visitors a day. Its management board has set up a medical team to thoroughly check any visitor with a fever.

With people returning to work after the week-long holiday, the number of pilgrims visiting the Perfume Pagoda in Hanoi has reduced by more than half to 200,000. The management board makes regular announcements telling people to wear masks to avoid the coronavirus.

If the epidemic worsens, the annual festival at the Perfume Pagoda will be canceled, according to the board.

Vietnam's government declared the novel coronavirus an epidemic on Saturday.

The nCoV death toll has reached 362 – 361 in China and one in the Philippines. More than 17,300 have been infected and 486 have recovered.

As of February 3 eight people in Vietnam had been diagnosed with the infection.

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