Vietnam makes China border less porous in fight against coronavirus

By Hoang Phuong, Minh Cuong   February 7, 2020 | 12:37 am PT
Vietnam, which shares a long border with China, is imposing all restrictions necessary to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

British man Graham Calder took a train from China's Nanning to Dong Dang in Vietnam's border province of Lang Son on February 3.

He and a Vietnamese woman returning after traveling to Liuzhou, China, were the only two passengers on board the train.

The service from Hanoi's Gia Lam to Nanning, capital of Guangxi Province in southern China, was suspended a day later as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (nCoV).

Both passengers had to enter a quarantine room for medical examination.

A border officer then explained to them that they had two options: either return to China or be quarantined for 14 days in Vietnam.

Calder agreed to return to Nanning on a train from Hanoi, one of the last trips before the Vietnam-China service was suspended, while the woman agreed to be isolated at a military barrack 15 km away.

Calder said before entering the isolation room at Dong Dang station: "I was not happy. When boarding the train in Nanning, nobody told me about this regulation."

He had flown from the U.K. to China, which is being rocked by a pneumonia epidemic caused by the nCoV, and took the train from Nanning planning to visit Hue in central Vietnam.

Graham Calder talks to a border guard at Dong Dang railway station on February 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Graham Calder (R) talks to a border guard at Dong Dang railway station on February 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

WHO has warned that Vietnam is at high risk of nCov infection because of its long border of more than 1,500 kilometers with China.

Vietnam has deployed 1,400 border guards to its seven border provinces, where they set up camps to prevent people from crossing the border.

Lang Son Province, which has a 231-km border with China, has two international border gates -- the Huu Nghi road gate and Dong Dang railway gate -- besides two national border gates and seven border markets.

Before Vietnam declared the new coronavirus an epidemic, thousands of people used to cross the border every day.

Staff working on the Nanning-Hanoi passenger train wait for checking health conditions. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Personnel working on the Nanning-Hanoi passenger train wait for medical screening. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

"I feel safer though my overtime pay will reduce," Nguyen Duc Chung, 34, an official at Dong Dang Station now responsible for controlling trains only running between Hanoi and Dong Dang.

He said the border area is highly vulnerable to nCov infection but luckily no cases have been reported in Lang Son so far.

On Lunar New Year's Eve, January 24, he saw all border guards and customs officers wearing face masks at work. The next morning railway workers were also told to wear masks.

Soon a sign was put up at the checkpoint saying all passengers need to undergo a medical examination before completing immigration procedures and visitors should not enter Vietnam if they have symptoms of coronavirus infection.

The notice is in three languages: Vietnamese, Chinese and English.

Border guards are on duty at Huu Nghi international border gate in Lang Son Province. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Border guards on duty at the Huu Nghi border gate in Lang Son Province. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The number of people crossing the Huu Nghi border gate these days is down to a 10th of the 5,000 daily before Tet.

On February 2 more than 500 Chinese waiting to enter Vietnam were asked to return or be quarantined for 14 days.

On February 4, after others finished the procedures and boarded a car to the isolation area, eight people belonging to Nguyen Thi Loan's family were still waiting.

She had visited her husband’s hometown in China’s Jiangxi to celebrate the Lunar New Year on January 22 and was now returning to Vietnam. From Jiangxi, her family had flown to Nanning and sought to enter Vietnam through the Huu Nghi border gate.

But her Chinese husband was denied entry while those having Vietnamese passports were allowed to enter and be isolated for 14 days.

Jiangxi is one of the Chinese localities to be hit by the coronavirus that has so far killed 638 people.

Captain Nguyen Tuan Anh, deputy head of the Huu Nghi international border gate border station, explained: "The epidemic is very unpredictable and the risk of infection is high and therefore it is necessary to adopt strict preventive measures."

He said Chinese come to Vietnam for many purposes such as working, visiting relatives and traveling. It is not possible to "make concessions to any individual" whether or not they carry the disease, he said.

Everyone had to comply with the regulations, even diplomatic passport holders, he added.

In recent days the Lang Son Border Guard has stationed its personnel along the border and set up dozens of checkpoints to block trails and open paths to prevent Vietnamese from crossing over illegally.

In Quang Ninh, home to the world-famous Ha Long Bay and which shares a border with China, streets in Mong Cai Town are no longer crowded while the central markets are closed and restaurants are deserted.

Every few hours, a loudspeaker announces the disease status and provides instructions on how to prevent it. Every day medical teams go around to spray disinfectants in alleys and other places.

The temporary isolation area in Mong Cai border town in Quang Ninh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong.

The temporary isolation area in Mong Cai border town in Quang Ninh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong.

"Local health workers and local officials come to each house to check people's health and create electronic records for monitoring," Nguyen Thi Thanh, a hotel receptionist in Mong Cai, said.

Before the restriction on entry, the town was flooded with Chinese, which had Thanh worried. After coming home from work every day she has to shower and disinfect herself before seeing her children.

The government suspended entry and exit through the Mong Cai border gate on January 31, and the number of Chinese tourists arriving in the town showed clear signs of falling.

Like in Lang Son, border guards here too strictly control immigration and travel across the border. They disinfect the Mong Cai border gate twice a day along with the luggage of travelers.

Quang Ninh has set up two isolation centers. Returning citizens with signs of cough and fever are quarantined. Those with normal body temperatures are isolated at a number places including hotels for 14 days.

In Cao Bang in the far north, border guards have set up groups to carry out preventive tasks. Each group consists of four people, including a police officer and a person from the local militia.

More than 6,000 medical masks and disinfectant solution have been provided to the troops stationed there.

The number of confirmed cases in Vietnam rose to 12 on Thursday after two more people tested positive for the virus. They belong to the family of an infected Vietnamese worker who had returned from Wuhan City last month.

The 10 earlier cases include a cousin of the worker, a Vietnamese-American visitor who transited in Wuhan, a Chinese man from Wuhan and his son who met him in Vietnam, and a hotel receptionist who served the two in Nha Trang.

Three of the ten have been discharged from hospital: the hotel employee, the younger Chinese man and one of the workers who returned from Wuhan.

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