Since the start of World War 2, many Brits have kept the motto “keep calm and carry on” in mind when a particularly stressful situation arises. The phrase, from a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939, was intended to raise the morale of the public, threatened with attacks on major cities.
Today it is a different enemy, one with no face, as COVID-19 makes its presence felt not only in the United Kingdom but across almost every nation on Earth. Sharing a border with the epicentre of China, Vietnam was one of the first countries to be affected by the outbreak in its early days, but several months on, the number of cases here is at odds with many others that are struggling.
And many Brits are based in Vietnam, be it for work purposes or for travel – with many now at a point of having to choose to return home, or keep calm and carry on in Vietnam.
“I feel like I either have to leave now, not knowing how it is back home, or stay here and wait and see,” said Englishwoman Josephine, who volunteers with children near Danang. “I watch the UK news and they believe the crisis will not peak for several months. Many there are not ready for something like that, and I’ve seen images of my local shops running out of food and toilet paper, it’s madness.”
For many foreigners in Vietnam, this country is now their home. Josephine has not been back to the UK in over a year. Andrew, a teacher from Scotland, has been in Vietnam for a lot longer, but almost made the move to return as the schools continued to remain shut. “It’s so frustrating. I almost booked flights home several weeks ago, but I managed to get work teaching online, which will have to do for now,” Andrew explained. “If nothing changed in my little town back home, I could just work with my dad and stay at my parents for a while. But things are about to be shut down there too.”
Part of the reason for being so conflicted is that Vietnam is, on the whole, doing a strong job of suppressing the spread of the coronavirus. While some major global news outlets have focused on the good work carried out by Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan in COVID-19 measures, Vietnamese and foreigners alike are doing their best on social media to put across that Vietnam should be mentioned in the same breath.
Just before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Europe the hotspot of the crisis, Vietnam went three weeks without a new case, an astonishing statistic compared to most other destinations. New cases since then have originated from flights from Europe, and as yet there have been no deaths. But with government actions to track down those who may be affected by these clusters, travellers and expats in the country have frequently posted that they feel safer in Vietnam, impressed by its measures.
“The government has been more transparent in fighting epidemic than some others,” said a Facebook user based in Hanoi. “People seem willing to give up their privacy and co-operate strongly with the local authorities in disease prevention.”
One expat named Dale flew back into Hanoi two weeks ago, and outlined his experience in being tested for coronavirus. “The situation is messy, and doctors and nurses have to work so hard in the hospitals this whole time and don’t get to see their families. They are doing a brilliant job and I am so grateful for their efforts,” Dale said. “But if you have only very minor symptoms like I did, its better to self-quarantine at home, because this will help keep a burden off the system.”
One British tourist who was featured prominently in the media two weeks ago with his description of being in quarantine in Vietnam, last week offered an update.
“Soldiers are taking good care of us and are being very kind. Everything is disinfected with spray daily, and we have specific no-go areas,” he said. “They are clearly very prepared. I salute Vietnam for its kindness and for treating us well, and I wish other countries were this prepared.”
On Twitter, Do Thanh Hai posted an image of another group of Vietnamese military men, sleeping in a common room to save their dorms for quarantine rooms for civilians. “They cook, serve, care, clean, and secure the places for quarantined people,” Hai said. “They are quiet men at the forefront of the fight.”
Using a Twitter hashtag based on Vietnam leaving nobody behind, other foreigners entering the country have offered thanks for the preparedness of the country. “We respect the fact that this is what had to happen in the circumstances and we are very thankful to the hospital and all the staff for looking after us so well,” said one couple placed into quarantine.
And, dismayed by the somewhat slower response by countries such as Italy and the UK, one British traveller placed into isolation as he arrived in the country posted, “While the rest of the world waited, Vietnam has been preparing.”
Furthermore, the WHO itself praised the work carried out by the Vietnamese government. “Early detection, early isolation, and active treatment is extremely important. Vietnam’s early actions stopped further spread of the disease, saving thousands of lives.”
These actions in the country echo those made in Singapore and South Korea, which have been praised internationally for using quarantine effectively, providing services to get checked, ramping up testing, and more.
Back in Britain, many have been upset at London’s sluggishness in activating measures, but also enforcing them, with many simply suggestions rather than orders. In contrast, Vietnam’s government was timely to issue daily updates on mandatory changes involving closing schools, avoiding certain areas, and wearing masks, for example. Strict as they may be, for people in Vietnam, at least they know where they stand.
As one other British twitter user said last week, “Vietnam has got a long way to go but they knew what they were doing from the outset. I remember thinking it (closing schools) felt like an overreaction, but I was totally wrong.” VIR
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