Vietnamese nuptials fall prey to coronavirus

By Pham Nga   March 5, 2020 | 01:03 am PT
Vietnamese nuptials fall prey to coronavirus
Masked guests, having had their temperatures checked, attend a wedding in Ha Long of northern Quang Ninh Province in early February 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Huu Hung.
The viral epidemic Covid-19 has upended many weddings across northern Vietnam, affecting industry professionals and lovers alike.

Thu Ha picked up the phone to call her soon-to-be husband, revealing a picture of the couple kissing on the screen.

Guests had filled the wedding venue, with the reception, table setup and everything in between prepared, only the bride was missing.

Nguyen Hung, 27, consoled his wife, with a friend popping his head into frame hoping to sooth the bride: "You’re lying at home on your wedding day, huh? Well, when your quarantine is over, we’ll come pick you up."

Thu Ha responded with a smile.

Ha, 27, from the northern Vinh Phuc Province, was under quarantine as per Covid-19 protocol. With wedding invitations already sent and 85 tables laid out, the ceremony took place at the groom’s house in Hung Yen Province, two hours away, without the bride's family.

The couple's most important day was planned at the end of last year, but little did they know it would be interfered with by a public health emergency.

Ha and Hung scheduled the engagement ceremony for February 28 and wedding four days later. When Vinh Phuc became the Covid-19 epicenter of Vietnam with 11 confirmed infections, the couple became incredibly anxious.

She finally called her friends to inform them about the wedding, telling them not to come because "my hometown is Vinh Phuc."

The two families decided to combine both ceremonies on February 28, reducing the number of tables to 10.

A week before the wedding, the coronavirus made headlines in South Korea where Daegu City and northern Gyeongsang Province became Covid-19 epicenters. Ha’s South Korean father and Vietnamese mother live in Pocheon City, 200 km from both outbreak areas.

Two days before the wedding, Ha’s parents hopped on a flight to Vietnam to attend their daughter’s important day thinking only those coming from the epicenters would be put in quarantine.

The couple landed and filed a health declaration. They went home and shared a meal with family members and relatives. But the same evening, Vietnam announced a stricter protocol, requiring all arrivals from South Korea to be quarantined. The family dinner meant 14 people, including the bride, must be put under home quarantine.

"I was stunned for a few seconds, but accepted the measure. After all, it’s for everyone’s safety," Ha said.

On the same night, she called her future husband to tell him the news.

"The wedding might be delayed, but I have booked the catering service, my family has also invited guests, so it can’t be cancelled," Hung told his future wife.

Ha spent the entire next morning cancelling reception, catering for the party at her family, and makeup services. Wedding parties in Vietnam are often held at both the bride and the groom's families.

"We are very sorry you were quarantined mere days before your wedding. However, because of the virus, it is a must to ensure public safety," a local health official told Ha's family.

Wedding services hit

Having worked as a makeup artist for 10 years, Phung Trang, 33, has never witnessed a more unfortunate case than Ha’s.

"I have received calls from 30 people postponing their weddings because of the coronavirus, but none of them was caught off guard like Ha," Trang said.

Trang also works for other brides, most of whom from Vinh Phuc who marry men from other provinces.

"Most of their weddings were mostly unattended," she noted.

Huy Hoang, 27, from northern Hai Phong City, paid a deposit of VND10 million to the restaurant where his wedding would occur, but has yet to print invitations.

Amid coronavirus fears, Hoang is concerned not all 500 guests would show up.

"It’s an important day so the more, the merrier, but if anything happens at the wedding, then that would cause stress," he said.

On Tuesday, Hoang and his wife visited a wedding studio to rent a dress, adding a clause that would allow them to postpone rental in case the epidemic worsens.

On Monday, Hai Phong reported four Covid-19 suspected cases, turning Hoang’s mother into a bundle of nerves.

She called the car rental service and asked them to disinfect the wedding vehicle. Hoang’s parents also scanned the guest list to cut the number of attendees.

"I don't know until when we would have to postpone the wedding," Hoang said.

The coronavirus epidemic has hit the wedding service industry hard. According to a cursive VnExpress survey, out of 20 wedding service outlets providing decorations, flowers, catering, venues, makeup, and photo shoots in Vinh Phuc, Hai Phong, Hanoi and the northern Quang Ninh Province, only two wedding venues have not reported postponements.

A wedding convention center in Ha Long in Quang Ninh is one. Despite the good news, manager Nguyen Thuong Thao noticed the significant reduction of guests.

The venue was disinfected, staff equipped with facemasks, and hand sanitizers prepared, though most weddings have only about 400 attendees. Before the coronavirus became a public concern, the number used to be between 500 and 1,000.

"We used to host 12-15 weddings a month, now it's only two. If this carries on, we will suffer a tremendous loss," Thao said.

Ngoc Toan, the studio owner, have had 20 customers postpone proceedings in the last two months. Some brides who live abroad made the tough call because they don't want to fly home, risk being put in 14-day quarantine and miss their wedding. Other in Hai Phong have also pushed the date over fears of infection.

"Half of my customers have delayed the date until the end of December, while I have no idea when the others plan to have their weddings," Toan explained.

On some days, Phung Trang, the makeup artist, has received four calls delivering the bad news.

"It’s understandable that brides are postponing their weddings, but people from nearby provinces cancel my services because they know I’m from Vinh Phuc. Everyone working in the wedding industry is nervous," she said.

Tra My, 26, and her husband-to-be are both from Hanoi where no positive cases have occurred so the couple is confident their wedding would go ahead in mid-March. She only grew anxious when, while fitting a dress, she learned many brides had postponed their weddings.

Tra My and her fiancé decided to reduce the guest list to 300. She also plans to buy hand sanitizers, though the restaurant has it covered.

"Getting married during the outbreak, most attendees would understand if they were un-invited. Many would even thank me," My said.

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