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Vietnamese students in South Korea plan escape as coronavirus fears mount

By Duong Tam, Thanh Hang   February 25, 2020 | 04:39 pm PT
Vietnamese students in South Korea plan escape as coronavirus fears mount
Women wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus walk at Dongseong-ro shopping street in central Daegu, South Korea February 21, 2020. Photo by Reuters.
With South Korea on high alert as the number of Covid-19 infections spiral, thousands of Vietnamese students seek means to return home.

Thuy Trang, 22, a second-year student at Keimyung University in Daegu City, center of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea, faces 14 days quarantine upon arrival in Vietnam.

Trang and her husband, another second-year student at the university, have posted Covid-19 updates via their Facebook accounts since February 18.

South Korea recently made international headlines as one of the worst-hit by the coronavirus, recording 60 new cases on Tuesday alone to take the total number to 893, many in Daegu. The spike was linked to so-called "Patient 31", a 61-year-old woman who attended services at Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, infecting dozens of people, reports stated.

The outbreak has forced Trang and her husband to don face masks, stockpile food and limit excursions.

In a group chat for Vietnamese students in Daegu, many of Trang’s peers confirmed they planned to return home before the situation grew worse, postponing their studies for one year.

Trang followed suit, booking tickets to her hometown in Phu Tho, around 100 kilometers to the northwest of Hanoi.

"Returning to Vietnam means a year away from my husband. But if I still stay in Daegu, I don't know what will happen," Trang commented. 

Trang’s husband has lost his part-time job at a restaurant that closed as a preventive measure to contain the epidemic, affecting their income and tuition repayments.

The couple plan to have a baby in 2020, when her husband will drop out of school and look for work, after two years at university.

"My parents cannot move to South Korea to take care of my child.".

Studying Korean at Keimyung University for 6 months, Nguyen Hong Ngoc, 26, a native of Phu Tho, cannot postpone her course and return home.

"If I return to Vietnam I may not be able to return to South Korea, losing the VND200 million ($8,620) fee I had paid the school," Ngoc said.

The facade of the Keimyung University in Daegu City is left deserted. Photo courteys of Nguyen Hong Ngoc

The deserted street near Keimyung University in Daegu City. Photo courteys of Nguyen Hong Ngoc.

Ngoc and his roommate are stockpiling rice, vegetables, eggs, and shrimp noodles, staying abreast of the situation, while adhering to strict hygiene measures.

They hope the school and Vietnamese government would support students to return home while continuing their studies in future.

About 70 km from Daegu, Nguyen Quang Huy, 21, from Hanoi, a second-year student at Ui Deok University in Gyeongju City of North Gyeongsang Province, also plans to return home though he only recently traveled back to South Korea after the Lunar New Year break.

The student is worried as cases of nearby infection continue to grow, with a 40-year-old man the latest casualty.

"Spring semester only starts in March, though I came to South Korea in February to apply for a visa extension," Huy revealed.

Due to the increasing number of Covid-19 infections, the South Korean education ministry has delayed the spring semester to March 9.

The pub where Huy works has been closed for two weeks, meaning he is both "absent from class and unemployed".

"If the situation gets worse, and the school guarantees we can return to study, I will go home," he commented.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam said about 200,000 Vietnamese citizens are studying and working in South Korea, with 8,285 living in Daegu City, and 18,502 in North Gyeongsang Province.

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