Vietnamese student recalls way back home from Covid-19 hotspot

By Thuy Quynh   March 20, 2020 | 11:30 pm PT
Vietnamese student recalls way back home from Covid-19 hotspot
Postgraduate student Ngoc Linh. Photo courtesy of Ngoc Linh.
A Vietnamese postgraduate student in communications in Italy, who decided to return home due to the pandemic, says what she has been through.

On March 8, Ngoc Linh's brother called and convinced her to return to Vietnam, which she had been hesitating to do. When the lockdown was announced and northern Italy was isolated, she started feeling very apprehensive.

She immediately booked a ticket through Dubai for $740, double the usual price. "I had not planned to leave initially because I believed I could protect myself. But I returned because I wanted to put my family at ease."

During her 36 hours en route she was filled with trepidation and wore two masks, replacing them every six hours. She cleaned her hands with sanitizer every 15 minutes, and each time she went to the restroom she washed three times with soap.

On board the aircraft, she disinfected every inch around her seat, never took off her masks and skipped meals.

When she transited in Dubai, a medical officer took a nose swab from her to test for the novel coronavirus, and she had mixed feelings, both worried about getting stuck in the UAE and knowing she did not want to carry Covid-19 to Vietnam.

She had to wait for 21 hours for her test result. No one called out her name on the public address system, and she was allowed to board.

When they set foot in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, Linh and the nine other passengers on board were whisked away for a health examination because they had come from Italy, a Covid-19 hotspot.

After that, they were all allowed to eat.

"Oh my god, the banh mi with egg and pork was so good that I thought food from any three-star Michelin restaurant owned by Gordon Ramsay could not compare with it."

Before returning she had been worried she would face a stigma about coming from a pandemic hotspot, but she was wrong: Everybody was caring, making her feel she was on a 14-day vacation when being in the quarantine.

Linh is preserving memories of that "vacation" by taking photos inside her quarantine facility and drawing on them.

In them she describes her time in the quarantine. When she is hungry, she can ask someone to buy food from the outside. 

Every morning a man wearing a blue shirt comes to her room, wakes her up and asks her if she feels alright, Linh said.

The quarantine facility where Linh is staying. Photo courtesy of Ngoc Lnh.

The facility where Linh is quarantined. Photo courtesy of Ngoc Linh.

"If you have any problem, I’ll come right away...," he has told her. He is a medical officer responsible for keeping a watchful eye on people in the quarantine.

Linh plays games and works on some online courses at her university. It will be another week before Linh is allowed to return home to her family. 

Vietnam has had 91 patients so far, of whom 74 are undergoing treatment and the remaining 17 have recovered.

In Italy, the death toll has climbed to over 4,000, more than in China, and morgues are running out of space.

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