Vietnamese in Moscow hit hard by Covid-19 outbreak

By Anh Ngoc   May 6, 2020 | 09:15 pm PT
Vietnamese in Moscow hit hard by Covid-19 outbreak
A woman uses her phone outside a hospital treating Covid-19 patients on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, April 20, 2020. Photo by Reuters.
Many Vietnamese living in Moscow have a difficult life made worse by pandemic lockdown, and many have contracted Covid-19 due to crowded conditions.

Minh Thuy set up a business in Moscow using family loans a few years ago.

Since the Russian government imposed a lockdown on March 28, the World Trade Center Moscow, one of the largest commercial complexes in the country, has been closed, leaving many traders including Vietnamese citizens like Thuy, 43, without a livelihood.

"We came home for the Lunar New Year festival, and as soon as we returned to Russia in mid-February the Covid-19 broke out," she says.

"In recent years the Russian economy has worsened, my business has not been good, and now with the epidemic, it has become more difficult."

They have stocked food for two weeks and almost never go out for fear of getting infected. In recent days Russia has reported over 10,000 new cases daily taking its tally so far to almost 166,000.

Moscow is the epicenter of the outbreak. With her infant and diabetic, Thuy feels as if she is sitting on fire.

"Hospitals are overloaded. If we unfortunately get infected then it’s really dangerous."

Vietnamese in Russia have been worried ever since the first of them fell prey to the disease in Moscow in late March. Working in crowded markets, many face the risk of contracting Covid-19.

But they are not equipped to protect themselves since most do not know Russian or the local medical system and lack health insurance and access to information.

A voluntary group called Supporting Vietnamese in Russia, which offers translation and other assistance to Vietnamese expats, said the community experienced the biggest outbreaks in the first two weeks of April.

"Our 60 volunteers divided themselves up so that there would always be someone available to help people 24/24, but in reality many have worked all day because the number of people calling the hotline for help was too big," Van Anh, a member, said.

The group registers people at clinics close to their residence so that they can go for a checkup if they have symptoms. The group also summons ambulances and interprets when needed. In case someone is admitted to hospital, the volunteers stay by their side until they are discharged.

Chung Le, another volunteer, said most Vietnamese expats are low-income earners and often live in groups of up to 10, crowded conditions that serve as a breeding ground for infection.

"Last month, when there were not that many cases in Russia, it was easy to call an ambulance. But now sometimes we have to wait for 12 hours for an ambulance to take a patient to hospital. Sometimes, even after they reach the hospital, they have to wait for three or four hours to get a bed because there are too many patients," Le said.

In the last few weeks she has been cooking for a Vietnamese man who is critically ill with Covid-19 and sending food to him in hospital. While the man has been on a ventilator for almost a month, eight members of his family also contracted the disease.

But of all the people Le has helped, the story of Nguyet, a single mother in her late 50s who lives hand-to-mouth, touches her the most.

"In early April Nguyet called our hotline and said she developed high fever and had breathing difficulty. But she insisted on not calling an ambulance because she was worried about leaving her mentally ill son alone at home."

Nguyet had a history of cancer and high blood pressure, and within days her condition worsened. Finally she agreed to let Le take her to a hospital. 10 days later Nguyet’s fever was gone and she could breathe normally, and she was discharged. Her son was also infected but his case was not serious, and so the group got a local doctor to treat him at home.

Le and her group and many others have donated money, rice and food to help Nguyet get back on her feet.

Doctors treat a Covid-19 patient in an intensive care unit in Hospital 52 in Moscow, Russia, April 28, 2020. Photo by Reuters

Doctors treat a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit of the Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52 in Russia on April 28, 2020. Photo by Reuters.

There are 80,000-100,000 Vietnamese currently living in Russia. According to the Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control at the Vietnamese Embassy in Moscow, as of April 15 around 100 Vietnamese in Russia had been hospitalized with pneumonia. At least 80 people in Moscow said to have tested positive with the novel coronavirus.

Le and her group have seen their workload reduce significantly after the embassy set a group comprising medical students and a "Russian Federal Anti-epidemic Network" besides providing direct consultations from doctors in Vietnam.

A fund established to support those affected by Covid-19 has received lots of donations. Families who unfortunately lose a member to Covid-19 receive $700 for arranging the funeral.

The embassy announced that Vietnam Airlines would repatriate 200 Vietnamese nationals on May 12, including children, older people, those with underlying conditions, and students without a place to stay in Russia.

Thuy and her family are listed to go home on this trip since they have an infant. She quickly borrowed $1,300 from her family to pay the airfares.

"The money I borrowed to come to Russia has not been repaid yet, but now I just want to go back home, wait for the disease to end, and then return though I do not know what my business would be like. This is a common concern among Vietnamese in Russia."

She has agreed to carry the ashes of a compatriot who died of Covid-19 to their common hometown, Hai Phong in northern Vietnam. Many people who lost loved ones to the disease go to the volunteer group’s Facebook page to find people who can take their ashes to Vietnam.

Thuy said: "All are away from home and they experienced something unfortunate. Anyone would do this for them."

Meanwhile, those who remain in Moscow trust authorities will contain the outbreak soon.

Van Anh said everyone receives free Covid-19 treatment in Russia.

If someone is suspected of being infected, all members of their family are closely monitored and tested at home by health officials. They are also placed in mandatory quarantine and given treatment if necessary.

"With the construction of field hospitals to be finished soon, I believe the city will control the situation in a short time," Anh said.

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