NGO work hit in Vietnam by novel coronavirus

By Sen    February 12, 2020 | 04:44 pm PT
NGO work hit in Vietnam by novel coronavirus
Bears at Animals Asia's rescue center in Vinh Phuc Province, the center of the nCoV epidemic in Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
The new coronavirus outbreak has claimed an unexpected victim in Vietnam: NGOs and charities.

Human trafficking victims are for instance unable to seek help from the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a Hanoi-based nonprofit that rescues Vietnamese women and girls trafficked to China for the sex trade and forced labor.

Michael Brosowski, its founder, said: "We are still getting calls for help but unable to reach people. We have to stop [our rescue missions]. We cannot get anyone across the border."

Vietnamese authorities announced on Monday they would delay the reopening of several border checkpoints with China until the end of this month.

They were closed after the Lunar New Year holidays to prevent the spread of the nCoV that has killed more than a thousand people in China.

Blue Dragon’s last rescue took place on January 25, two days after Vietnam confirmed its first acute pneumonia cases.

Brosowski said: "The only good news is that we think trafficking into China is also likely reduced. [The virus outbreak] won’t make it stop completely but it will be harder for traffickers."

Animals Asia, a charity with bear sanctuaries in Hong Kong and Vietnam, said it is feeling the pinch.

The charity runs a bear rescue center in Vietnam's northern Vinh Phuc Province, which has confirmed 10 nCoV infections out of the country's 15.

"We have temporarily stopped rescuing bears," Tuan Bendixsen, its head of office in Vietnam, said.

The decision follows the Forest Protection Department's announcement last week, temporarily prohibiting the transportation of wild animals out of their current locations in Vietnam until further notice. Experts speculate that wild animal meat sold at markets in Wuhan in China possibly caused the coronavirus outbreak.

The center has also stopped receiving guests from February 8 until the end of March.

In Saigon, Damien Roberts, executive director of Saigon Children, said the coronavirus situation has inflicted "quite a pain" on his charity.

The charity has closed 200 public schools it built with about 20,000 students. Its private English, IT and vocational training school in District 4 is also closed, affecting 700 students.

Founded in 1992, the organization supports disadvantaged children by working with local authorities to build schools and providing vocational training and scholarships.

The epidemic has also caused the charity to postpone the opening of new schools and donor visits, which makes it difficult to secure donations and get decisions on potential donations, Roberts said.

Saigon Children has deployed an e-learning platform for its students to continue their studies, but only a small portion are benefiting from it since more funds are needed for all students to join.

"I'm currently requesting some medical and pharmaceutical companies who are benefiting from the coronavirus to sponsor more kids," Roberts said.

Across the country, the novel coronavirus outbreak has hit tourism, hospitality, retail, and agriculture exports to China.

Out of 15 cases in the country, six have been discharged from hospital after recovering and no fatalities have been reported so far.

The global death toll has reached 1,365, with 1,363 dying in mainland China and one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong.

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