Vietnamese workers choose to stay put in coronavirus-hit South Korea

By Anh Ngoc   March 5, 2020 | 08:14 pm PT
Vietnamese workers choose to stay put in coronavirus-hit South Korea
Pedestrians, wearing masks amid the rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease, wait at a crossing at a shopping district in Daegu, South Korea, March 4, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon.
While many Vietnamese are flying home from Daegu, a Covid-19 epicenter, some have decided to stay back to save money or avoid spreading the virus.

Quoc Anh was out of job for half a month but instead of returning home like many of his countrymen, he decided to remain in the South Korean city.

Living in a small room near an industrial park he no longer works at his auto parts factory since it closed due to the epidemic.

"After the epidemic broke out in South Korea, my factory's partners suspended orders, forcing it to shut down and let all workers be off from work without pay," he says.

"It is still unclear when I could get back to work, and I am looking for a temporary job."

Now, he goes to the market once a week to buy food and other essentials and quickly returns home for fear of contracting the infection since South Korea has become the worst-hit country outside China.

In the three years since he moved to South Korea he has been sending most of his salary to support his parents and wife since the cost of living in a suburb of Daegu is not too high.

The sudden outbreak of the disease and loss of work has meant he has had to borrow money from friends.

His family in Thai Binh in northern Vietnam call him every day and tell him to return home, but he has decided against it.

Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea with 2.5 million people, is currently one of the global Covid-29 hotspots. Schools are closed and the spring semester has been postponed, the usually crowded malls are deserted and festivals and other public events have been canceled.

Anh explains: "I didn’t return home because I have decided to come here to work to improve my family's economic situation. The disease is scary but we should not be confused; it is necessary to know how to remain safe."

Every day he receives messages from local health officials instructing him how to keep safe. He quarantines himself at home, wears face masks and avoids crowded areas. He no longer goes to church.

Sixty percent of Covid-19 cases in South Korea are linked to Shincheonji, a shadowy religious group.

Anh says: "Life in the suburbs of Daegu is normal with just a minor disturbance. Shops, supermarkets are still open for people to shop though the number of customers has decreased significantly. Prices of goods do not fluctuate much, except for face masks becoming scarce."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam said around 200,000 Vietnamese nationals live in South Korea, 8,285 in Daegu City and 18,502 in North Gyeongsang Province.

Also choosing to stay back in Daegu but luckier than his compatriot, Tran Xu still goes to work since his company remains open.

"My company encourages workers to complete orders," Xu says.

"South Korean workers also say they are more afraid of starvation than dying due to the epidemic."

Xu, who has been in the country for nine years, has stocked 20 kg of rice, eight kg of pork, four ducks and three cabbage plants, enough for a month, so that he does not have to leave home.

"I'm young, so I want to stay and challenge myself during this hard time and wait for the disease to end."

Thousands of Vietnamese in South Korea have started flying home, overloading quarantine facilities in major cities like Hanoi, Saigon and Da Nang. Many of them are students.

Unlike many of her friends, Nguyen Nhung, a university student in Daegu, decided to stay back for personal reasons.

When the epidemic broke out the 21-year-old was working part-time at a food shop for bus drivers, but last week, when the number of infection cases surged, she quit her job to ensure safety.

She has isolated herself at home in the hope that by the end of March she can return to school. She orders food and drinks and pays money online, and the delivery persons leave them outside her door. She also avoids her Korean friends.

Kieu Trang, 30, who is married to a South Korean man and has two children, says her family in Vietnam has been calling her repeatedly and asking them to come to Vietnam.

Kieu Trang and her son still decide to stay in Daegu. Photo courtesy of Kieu Trang.

Kieu Trang and her son in Daegu, South Korea. Photo courtesy of Kieu Trang.

Trang does not want to return to Vietnam though.

"I fear being exposed to pathogens at the airport and putting further pressure on Covid-19 prevention efforts in Vietnam. If I am infected with the virus, I can spread it to my relatives and the community in Vietnam," she says.

She continues to go to work at a company near home. Her eight-year-old son should have begun first grade this week, but schools are closed. Her husband has had to take a break from his freelance job to reduce the risk of infection and help take care of the children.

"I think the best solution for people living in the epidemic epicenter is to limit going out, avoid crowds, wear face masks, practice hygiene, eat well and leave mental comfortable, "Trang said.

Nguyen Thi Toan, an expert at the Multicultural Family Center in Daegu, said since the outbreak of the epidemic, many Vietnamese women married locally have sought advice about the disease.

"Most of them have no intention of going to Vietnam to avoid the epidemic.

"South Korea is trying its best to control the disease. It depends on each individual's sense of prevention. I think there is no need to be overly concerned and that people should rely on their own measures," Toan said.

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