Trapped in Wuhan: Vietnamese students at center of coronavirus lockdown

By Nhan Tran, Hoai Vu   January 29, 2020 | 05:11 am PT
Vietnamese students stuck in China’s Wuhan City, locked down following a deadly coronavirus outbreak, face boredom, stress and worry. 

At 7 a.m., the alarm rings, Nguyen Van Phi, 27, a student at Wuhan University, wakes up and touches his wife's forehead, then his own. "Luckily, there's no fever," he tells her.

Phi then turns on his phone and opens the Chinese website displaying the latest Health and Medical Commission statistics on the new coronavirus epidemic, shocked by the news stating the number of infections had climbed to nearly 6,000 and the death toll to 132.

Via Chinese messaging service Wechat, Phi reports his family's health condition to the general information channel established by the Vietnamese Embassy in China targeting Vietnamese students in Huabei Province’s Wuhan, a city of 11 million, considered the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Nguyen Van Phi (L) and his wife wearing face masks stay indoors all day as Wuhan was locked down following a deadly coronavirus outbreak. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Phi. 

Nguyen Van Phi (L) and his wife, in face masks, stay indoors all day as Wuhan is locked down following the coronavirus outbreak. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Phi. 

Phi said this year he and his wife decided not to return to Vietnam for Tet, or Lunar New Year, the most important and biggest holiday in Vietnam and China due tothe short holiday period and an overloaded study schedule.

Another reason is that his wife Nguyen Thi Thanh, also a Vietnamese student in Wuhan, is now pregnant. He also wanted to remain behind to experience the traditional Chinese atmosphere. However, Wuhan is now placed under lockdown in an effort to quarantine the epicenter of a newly discovered coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

Currently, Phi and his wife live off food stocks, and limits venturing outside, especially to crowded areas. From morning to evening, he and his wife stay home, their eyes glued to the news while answering phone calls from concerned relatives.

Most Vietnamese students trapped in Wuhan are living amid worry and stress, commencing each day checking their temperatures.

Huazhong Normal University has organized free soap, face masks and thermometers for international students, though many remain far from assured.

The university has the largest number of Vietnamese - nine students and a child - while the rest attend Wuhan University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China University of Geosciences, and Wuhan Sports University.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Nuoi, 34, a Vietnamese student at Huazhong Normal University, decided not to return to Vietnam for Tet with her husband and children to finish the last part of her doctoral thesis, though under increasing pressure as news of the virus has the world on edge. 

"Trapped at the epicenter of the outbreak, I receive hundreds of phone calls, messages and encouragement from my family," Nuoi said.

News about the disease and the increasing number of infections and casualties makes writing a thesis rather tough," she said.

Like her Vietnamese peers, she cooks economically to preserve food resources.

Most shops and restaurants in Wuhan are closed and nearly all private cars have been banned due to the deadly threat. All flights to and from Wuhan are canceled while the train stations stopped operating. Public transportation across the city is temporarily suspended, forcing residents to stay indoors and follow the latest government guidelines.

The family of Tran Dinh Nhan, 35, a student at Huazhong Normal University, wear face masks all day, even inside their home. He said Vietnamese students holed up in Wuhan often share their health conditions with and encourage each other.

The family of Tran Hoai Nhan trapped in Wuhan City wear face masks to prevent the deadly epidemic. Photo by VnExpress/Hoai Vu. 

The family of Tran Hoai Nhan trapped in Wuhan City wear face masks to protect themselves against the deadly epidemic. Photo by VnExpress/Hoai Vu. 

Twenty four Vietnamese students and their relatives remain in Wuhan at this time, including three families and four children, according to the Vietnamese Embassy in China, though no Vietnamese national has been reported to be infected.

Nobody expected to be stuck at the epicenter of the virus outbreak when the authorities decided to lock down Wuhan City.

According to the Vietnamese Embassy in China, 30 out of 31 provinces in China have reported cases of infection. Most Vietnamese students have returned home to celebrate Tet while there are still 141 Vietnamese people remaining in 20 localities across China.

All Vietnamese students in Wuhan can do now is wait on appropriate advice from the embassy in case the situation becomes more dangerous. 

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