Vietnamese international students unperturbed by Omicron

By Binh Minh   January 23, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
Vietnamese students abroad are carrying on unfazed though the Omicron variant is raging in many of their countries.

Ho Ngoc Quang, a junior chemical engineering student at Drexel University in the U.S., awoke on Jan. 11 with a dry and sore throat.

Two days earlier he had gone with a large group of Vietnamese friends to a restaurant in Philadelphia. A day later he had a fever of more than 38.5 degrees Celsius and headache.

Eight of them tested positive for Covid-19, while the remaining four, including Quang, have not tested.

But he was certain he had Covid since everyone in the group had fever and sore throat.

He said: "My friends panicked at first but then tried to calm down since we all had at least two doses of Covid vaccines. We told each other not to be overly worried knowing that Omicron causes milder symptoms".

Ho Ngoc Quang at a museum in New York City in December 2021. Photo courtesy of Quang

Ho Ngoc Quang at a museum in New York City in December 2021. Photo courtesy of Quang

Quang, who lives in a house with four foreign friends, isolated himself in his room during the day and only went out to cook at night when everyone was asleep. Whenever he felt tired or had a headache, he would drink water and take Vitamin C supplements.

"As long as you take good care of yourself, you will be fine," he said.

To keep depression and anxiety at bay, he stopped watching the news and read books or watched movies instead.

Fortunately, his fever subsided after two days and sore throat and runny nose went away after five days. His friends are all gradually recovering too.

He said the surge in the number of Covid cases is putting a strain on U.S. hospitals.

But though the country has the highest number of cases in the world at over 70 million, people keep carry on with their lives, some regarding Covid just as seasonal flu, he said.

According to Johns Hopkins University statistics, the average number of confirmed Covid cases per day during the week ending Jan. 10 was 714,000, a 74.3 percent increase from the previous week.

On Jan. 10 there were 1.13 million new cases.

The state of Pennsylvania, where Quang lives, has more than 30,000 people currently sick and 3,000 getting infected every day.

His school switched to remote for two weeks before again reopening classes on Jan. 17. All students must be vaccinated and wear masks.

Quang is studying online since he is awaiting his Covid test results.

Like America, the U.K. has also experienced a surge in Omicron cases.

With over 200,000 new cases every day, it is among the five countries with the highest infection rates in the world, and international students have to adjust to a new normal life and change many habits.

Ta Duc Duy, a Bellerbys College London student, always wears a mask and has a hand sanitizer. Every day he followed the same routine: taking a train and a bus for an hour to school and returning to his apartment where he lives with his sister.

He avoided going out and seeing friends and stayed vigilant by washing hands constantly and changing clothes after returning home.

However, he had a fever and dizziness on the evening of Jan. 13 before going to bed, and he a Covid rapid test the next morning and found he was positive.

He said: "I called the school to let them know. The school asked me which classroom I was in and who I sat next to to test them, and instructed me on how to self-quarantine".

He became better after four days of headaches, shortness of breath, sore throat, and fever. He plans to return to school if his second test turns up negative.

The Omicron variant was discovered in Botswana and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) last November. It appears to cause less severe symptoms than Delta but spreads much faster.

This variant has had a significant impact on the U.S. and the U.K., causing many schools in these countries to repeatedly close and open, impacting the studies and other school activities including for international students.

A photo of Nguyen Dinh Dao. Photo courtesy of Dao

Nguyen Dinh Dao, a PhD student in health economics at the University of Queensland, Australia. Photo courtesy of Dao

In response to Omicron, many universities in Australia have switched to online classes.

In 2021 Queensland state repeatedly went into lockdown and required people entering from outside to have a travel pass, thus gradually bringing the Covid situation under control.

But after it reopened late last year, the epidemic has resurged, and the number of cases has increased rapidly, with authorities reporting nearly 16,000 on Jan. 18 alone.

According to Nguyen Dinh Dao, a PhD student in health economics at the University of Queensland, officials encourage people to wear masks when going out, keep a distance of 1.5 meters from each other, and scan QR codes when they go to a supermarket or store.

After two years of coping with the pandemic, Vietnamese students are now unfazed by Omicron, Dao said. Vietnamese student unions at universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology are always available to assist those in need.

"Vietnamese international students frequently provide food and medicines to one another in times of need".

Due to the country's ‘Zero Covid’ policy, China has not allowed international students in, and many cities in the country have recorded Omicron cases.

Pham Thi Duong, a junior at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, is one of the few remaining Vietnamese students in China.

A photo of Pham Thi Duong. Photo courtesy of Duong

Pham Thi Duong, a junior at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China. Photo courtesy of Duong

When Covid-19 first broke out, she was terrified of contracting the disease because the outbeak in Fuzhou city was severe. She stayed in the dorm all day, ordered groceries online, always wore a mask, and disinfected her hands whenever she went out.

She even disinfected things before putting them in the refrigerator.

"I live alone in a dormitory room, and I have to get permission from the school to go anywhere outside the city," she explained.

The economics student gradually became accustomed to it and is no longer concerned about the pandemic. But Covid has upended her routine: Now she only goes to class or library before returning straight to her dorm. She no longer travels anywhere or works part-time like she used to.

China is also in its winter break, and so Duong has plenty of time to do things she enjoys such as cooking, baking and practicing yoga.

"Fuzhou is still safe now, so I am doing fine," she said.

"However, I'm always prepared to live with the epidemic".

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