Vietnamese stuck in France face pandemic hurdles

By Viet Anh   March 24, 2020 | 11:00 pm PT
With some out of pocket and others struggling to buy food, Vietnamese in France have their feet firmly on the ground amid pandemic.

On March 16, Pham Mai, employed at a logistics firm in Brumath in the Grand Est region, developed a fever and dry cough. She was subsequently advised to self quarantine and work from home.

This was the moment she stopped arguing with her French colleagues about the dangers of the novel coronavirus, some previously thinking her paranoid.

In Brumath, two hours by train from Paris, where the number of infections climbed to 5,400 and over 120 people had died, Mai’s colleagues were all confident they would avoid infection.

"I watched the news every day, hoping the French government would deploy strict measures to stop the epidemic. When they implemented the lockdown, I thought it was too late," said Mai.

On March 16, President Emmanuel Macron decided to close the border to contain Covid-19. He also told local people to stop gathering and traveling in the next 15 days. Around 100,000 law enforcement officers have been mobilized to maintain order, with violators fined up to $150 if caught.

People in Paris on the first day of quarantine, March 17. Photo by Shuttestock/Ekaterina Pokrovsky.

People in Paris on the first day of quarantine, March 17, 2020. Photo by Shuttestock/Ekaterina Pokrovsky.

When Chi Nguyen told her French husband about Covid-19, he explained people were indifferent because they assumed it was seasonal flu, which would run its course once it grew warmer.

Locals previously believed the situation would remain stable thanks to excellent medical infrastructure and social benefits while the government stalled on containment measures to save the economy.

When the pandemic hit Italy, France finally woke up.

Foreseeing the lockdown, Chi and her husband had planned to send their children out of Paris. The first solution was their parents’ house 50 kilometers from the capital. The second was their friend’s house, 400 kilometers away.

They opted for the second solution, as their parents are old, and Mai’s family could potentially carry the virus from Paris.

While waiting for confirmation, Mai learned people were banned from traveling. She had little choice but to stay put.

Living in France for 14 years, Huynh Dung has never faced such upheaval as when Paris got locked down.

"I went to the supermarket to buy rice, but could not get a single kilogram because Asians had bought it all. They were stockpiling due to the pandemic," Dung recalled.

Managing several rental apartments, she had canceled all of her bookings in early March due to fears over the virus, even though it cost her.

Besides, she sold her restaurant in February, saying she wanted to avoid the risk of infection.

In Lyon, 500 kilometers from Paris, Hoang Kim Duyen thought authorities had been negligent for allowing 3,000 Italian football fans to attend the match between Lyon and Juventus on February 26, regardless of opposition. The Union of European Football Associations later decided to cancel the second-leg on March 17.

"I was worried because the number of infections in Italy was skyrocketing, and fatalities exceeded that in China," Duyen, working as a laboratory facility producer, maintained.

Since the lockdown, she has worked from home until further notice. Meanwhile, her husband’s bar has closed for days.

Though faced with extreme conditions, Vietnamese here remain optimistic.

Chi and her husband spend more time with their children, and have time to mull over the truly important aspects of their lives.

Most French have started donning masks and implement social distancing. In supermarkets, nearly all empty shelves have been restocked.

In Lyon, Duyen is happy because her 9-year-old son has just discovered an interest in gardening.

In Brumath, Mai is thankful her husband is no longer indifferent to the pandemic. He takes care of his wife, supports her, and admits that wearing a mask can help protect themselves and others.

Dung, residing in Créteil outside Paris, now enjoys the tranquility of her neighborhood compared to the jostle in town. Her neighbors routinely sing from their windows to show their support for the Covid-19 battle.

However, when it comes to earnings, some may face future, even though France plans to mobilize $323 billion to support companies affected by the pandemic.

Eric Nguyen, a chef at a Paris restaurant, is relieved the government will support employees if businesses closed down.

Dung plans to change her business to adapt to the new circumstances.

"Many people are worried because they do not know what would happen to their finances," she said.

Mai, unconcerned about money, is worried about her fever and wants to get tested, which is not allowed since medical authorities only screen those experiencing respiratory issues.

Staying at home and making online appointments with doctors, Mai hopes to recover and return to work soon.

"I hope authorities will employ stricter measures to ensure the safety of those who still have to go to work," she concluded.

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