Grounded aviation staff, tour guides take off in Covid fight

By Nguyen Quy, Doan Loan   August 7, 2021 | 05:31 am PT
Grounded aviation staff, tour guides take off in Covid fight
Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga, a flight attendant for Vietnam Airlines, checks body temperature of a man at a Covid checkpoint in HCMC's Tan Binh District, June 2021. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga.
Without a summer travel season, a flight attendant, a co-pilot and a tour guide have volunteered to be on the frontlines of epicenter HCMC’s Covid-19 fight.

With all tours for the peak summer travel season canceled because of the worsening pandemic situation, Ho Phuong Duy, a tour guide with a HCMC-based travel company, left his home in District 10 to volunteer for a medical center in Tan Binh District where several Covid clusters have been detected.

He is in charge of taking samples from residents in locked down neighborhoods but this has not been an easy job for the 29-year-old. Everyday, he wakes up at 7 a.m. and starts his job at 8 a.m. He drives his motorbike along with his team to locked down areas and calls on residents to queue up for testing.

In the first days of working as a volunteer, Duy was frightened and stressed as he was continuously scolded and even threatened by residents who had to wait for long after queuing up for Covid testing.

"After three days, I wanted to give up this job and return home to my family but my colleagues encouraged me to overcome the challenges, saying the city now needs more young volunteers to support frontline medical staff," Duy told VnExpress International.

Before he joined the anti-pandemic fight, Duy had not been vaccinated; therefore, he was also worried about being infected with the virus because he was always coming into contact with residents in locked down areas.

"My parents supported me in joining the anti-pandemic fight to help HCMC quickly contain the outbreak. They also called me every day to get updates on my situation," he said, adding that he and other volunteers chose not to go home and stayed on at a centralized facility to avoid the risk of spreading the virus among family members.

Like Duy, many tour guides and travel bloggers in HCMC have joined groups that run charity kitchens or transport vegetables from the other regions to those in need in the hard-hit city.

With most domestic flights suspended since June, Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga, chief flight attendant for Vietnam Airlines, took unpaid leave. But, instead of staying at home, she registered to become an anti- pandemic volunteer in HCMC.

Nga was first assigned to be on duty at Covid-19 checkpoints in Tan Binh District to prevent people from moving into Go Vap District, which was locked down in early June due to linkage with a cluster at a Christian congregation.

When the pandemic situation worsened in HCMC, Nga switched to supporting medical staff in Covid-19 testing for residents at the Binh Dien wholesale market, one of the largest hotspots in the city; or at vaccination points at the Tan Thuan export processing zone and Phu Tho stadium.

Every day, she works on different shifts – from 8 a.m. in the morning or from 2 p.m. until late night. She returns home in sweaty clothes after wearing protective suits all day. There are days she does not have time to have lunch.

Nga said her work was mostly routine, but there were times when additional responsibilities were imposed by the situation.

"I cannot forget something that happened at the Binh Dien Market. I had to work from morning to 10 p.m., standing among thousands of people to check body temperature and help them make medical declarations.

"I was surprised that some residents from Mekong Delta provinces were illiterate; and I had to give detailed instructions or use my phone to help them make medical declarations."

Nga said most volunteers who join the anti-pandemic fight to support frontline staff get no benefits, but many are under great pressure because of resentful neighbors and family members who do not support what they do because of the high risk of contracting the virus.

Still motivated

Without no flight schedule, Vietnam Airlines co-pilot Dang Hoang Hieu has also volunteered to join the anti-pandemic fight in HCMC.

Hieu's first job was at a Covid checkpoint on Nguyen Thuong Hien Street in District 3. Then he participated in taking samples in locked down neighborhoods in Thu Duc City and assisted in quarantine facilities in Go Vap District.

In order to focus on volunteer work and ensure safety for his family, Hieu too has been living in a quarantine area designated for anti-pandemic volunteers.

On his first day at a quarantine facility in Go Vap District, Hieu helped a Covid patient receive breathing support from an oxygen tank, but the patient’s situation got worse in the evening, requiring an urgent transfer to a nearby hospital for emergency care. It was the first time Hieu was being part of caring for a critically ill patient and he has not forgotten the anxiety he experienced then.

Another unforgettable incident happened when Hieu took samples of two sisters for screening. The elder sister who was 8 months pregnant tested negative but her younger sister was positive with the novel coronavirus. The two sisters cried a lot on learning the results and he had to become a "psychologist" in calming them down and encouraging them to overcome difficulties.

Without foreign tourists due to border closures and prolonged flight suspensions, travel companies and airlines had been banking on domestic tourism during the peak summer holiday season to survive.

However, the new Covid wave triggered by the fast-spreading Delta variant has dashed all of their hopes.

After nearly two years and four waves of Covid-19, travel firms and domestic airlines are nearing financial crisis.

The situation warrants the sectors’ employees becoming dejected and despondent, but people like Hieu are buckling down.

"In good health and being fully vaccinated, I want to do something useful these days instead of staying at home."

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