Citizens rising to the pandemic challenge

“I am deeply honoured to call Vietnam my home and thank the Vietnamese who have made me feel so welcome in this beautiful and proud country.”

In a letter to VIR, Peter Rimmer, executive director of the British Business Group Vietnam, describes his experience of being taken care of in Ho Chi Minh City after flying in from the United Kingdom.

Citizens rising to the pandemic challenge

After 40 years of studying Vietnam as well as working and living with Vietnamese people, one of the joys has been not knowing what is likely to happen next. A very short while ago such a situation arose which put this theory to the test.

Due to a late change of plans I had to fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi for a Vietnam Airlines flight to the UK so that I could take part in the Britain in Southeast Asia Roadshow on behalf of the British Business Group Vietnam. The trip would involve visiting UK companies in various cities to explain the opportunities and benefits of trading with Vietnam.

My wife in Hanoi was rather irate to see I was not wearing a face mask when I arrived at Noi Bai Airport. The previous professional advice I had been given was that they offered little if any protection against COVID-19. I dutifully packed several packs of facemasks for my onwards trip to keep her happy and agreed to wear one for the flight to the UK. Upon arrival in the UK effectively no one was wearing a mask – a distinct contrast to what was happening in Vietnam.

The situation concerning the virus escalated quickly and one of my planned cities visits was cancelled in preference of distance phone calls instead. Other meetings saw reduced numbers attending. Getting around London I used tube train but some were so full it was impossible to get on them. Again, few if any people wore face masks. I was receiving calls from Vietnam telling me to wear a mask and drink salt water. I did not do so though as I did not want to be the odd person.

Towards the end of the two-week roadshow matters took a turn for the worse as flights to Vietnam were being restricted and passengers placed in quarantine if they did return. It was necessary for me to keep a close watch on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guide for information, especially concerning Vietnam. This proved to be a wise move.

Matters further developed quickly when notification was made that Vietnam was to stop entry from noon on March 15 for anyone who had been to the UK or even transited there during the previous 14 days. This left just one Vietnam Airlines flight that I could take to be sure of entry back to Vietnam.

Phone calls were made and with help again from my wife my return ticket was reallocated on to the final flight destined for Ho Chi Minh City. I understood quarantine was certain upon arrival back in Vietnam. Quick arrangements were made to get myself to Heathrow Airport whilst ensuring plenty of time for any last-minute travel issues.

At this point I realised that in the UK little direction action was being taken to protect the population against COVID-19, except for advice to wash hands frequently. This contrasted with Vietnam where masks, washing hands, and drinking salt water were all highly recommended.

The Vietnamese schools had also been closed for several weeks and the number of confirmed cases were still relatively low. Whilst appreciating the UK advice I did begin to think that Vietnam must be doing something right to keep the numbers so low. I decided it was time to take my own actions which would include the measures being used in Vietnam.

Upon arriving at Heathrow Airport, it was unclear whether people with a temporary residency card would be allowed on the flight. Further calls were made and it was agreed that I was indeed allowed onto the Vietnam Airlines direct flight back to Vietnam. The wearing of masks was compulsory on the flight and I used a good one I had brought with me for the visit. It was a big relief to be included on the flight.

Passengers boarding the plane were greeted by the aircrew wearing blue ‘surgical’ suits and plastic face masks. Other than the strange uniform, it was service as usual, a great testament to the attendants servicing the flight. Every passenger was required to wear their face mask and complete a health check form. Previous flights from the UK had included COVID-19 positive passengers, so as a precaution I avoided the toilets for the full 12-hour flight.

I had heard that the flight might not land in Ho Chi Minh City as planned but rather be diverted to the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. We would be then sent to a quarantine centre nearby. Ultimately, we did land at Ton San Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City as originally planned.

Upon disembarkation, there was a single desk for dealing with the health check forms which promptly closed as passengers from the UK flight approached. All the passengers were required to remain in a holding area prior to the immigration control booths. Hours passed and confusion was rife. Myself and two other westerners grouped together in the hope we may collectively gather some information as to what we needed to do. Facebook became a source of intense scrutiny. Welcome contact came from UK Ambassador Gareth Ward and Consul General Ian Gibbons. Both gave good encouragement and requested to be kept informed of any developments.

There was little, if any, information given to those gathered, certainly nothing for westerners but it appeared also to be the case for the Vietnamese nationals. Whilst appreciating the staff were under intense pressure and doing the best they could it did appear to demonstrate a lack of procedure which I hope can be addressed for any future occassions. Given the nature of the outbreak, having everyone gathered in such a small area could have had serious consequences.

 

After several hours, names taken from the health screening forms were read out for selected people to progress to immigration control. Slowly people got processed. The queue to the holding areas was growing all the time. Rumours abounded that included Cu Chi being the quarantine camp and not Can Tho, or perhaps even self-quarantine. Water finally arrived together with a small selection of sandwiches. Eventually everyone could progress to immigration – some with stamped health certificates, and others without.

Passports and visas were checked and we progressed to the baggage claim. A queue formed of people waiting to be transported to a quarantine centre. For those of us who had passed through immigration minus the health questionnaire a new one was rapidly completed and handed in.

It seemed as if my destination was not to be Cu Chi but rather a quarantine centre in the city. After a long day, this came as a relief and I hoped it was correct. Eventually I boarded a 15-seater minibus with just six people, including a fellow Englishman named Richard. All remaining space was taken up by baggage.

It was quickly apparent we were indeed destined for somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival, the centre had an outdoor LED display explaining it was a COVID-19 quarantine centre. It was a converted military barracks. Minibuses had to be disinfected with the spray entering the vehicle due to open windows.

I was immediately taken back to my work in the UK with refugees from Vietnam back in the 1970s and 1980s. Many memories have resurfaced from that time during my stay here in the centre, though of course there is a role reversal. I supported the Vietnamese then, and the Vietnamese are supporting me now. The circle of life.

We decanted with our baggage and sat behind desks waiting to be called for a temperature check and registration. We were then escorted to our new accommodation. Rooms with eight steel framed bunk beds. Lower bunks for sleeping, upper bunks for holding our belongings. More importantly it had two toilets having refrained from using the toilet in the airport as well as on the plane it was a real relief to use the toilet after a total of 23 hours.

My roommates consisting of six Vietnamese, Richard, and myself all rapidly settled in and slept. The next day started with a playing of the Vietnamese national anthem which was followed by a version of Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel and other mellow tunes.

Most of the day in the centre is spent interacting with family and friends on Facebook, emails, and other social media. A friend of a friend was quarantined from the same flight and it is good to have a kindred spirit nearby. The daily routine is broken by food breaks, face masks being delivered, and temperature checks.

A sign of normality returning came when after three days some girls started playing badminton in the central courtyard area. It was nice to watch as they made the best use of their skill. Later basketball, football, and kick shuttlecock would also be played. Parcel deliveries arrive from friends and family twice daily. Unfortunately, the mains charger for my laptop stopped working so a replacement was ordered. Everything seemed fine until three separate Grab taxis set off to deliver the charger but each time they returned to the shop as they were scared and refused to go close to the quarantine centre.

Thankfully Tien, a good acquaintance who has always been willing to help and is also a soldier, who had kindly delivered previous parcels, stepped up again to deliver the charger to me at the centre. It was another kind act from the military supporting me during my stay here.

There are many people who are both directly and indirectly supporting the fight against COVID-19, from staff at Heathrow, health screening staff, and immigration officials, to food delivery team, nurses and doctors, soldiers, students, and even media personnel. Many more people in Vietnam are involved in the fight to control the virus spreading and protecting others. I have seen many pictures which show army personnel sleeping in bivouacs and working until they drop to sleep to support the programme, along with students vacating accommodation to provide more beds for quarantine. This makes me feel humbled to be here in the relative comfort and safety of the centre.

The situation took a dark turn when I heard that a passenger on the same plane as me from London had tested positive and had been taken from a different centre to mine to a tropical disease hospital. Also, a roommate who had a bad cough was taken for further tests and isolation. It made me realise just why I was in the quarantine centre and how brave all the staff are to be here day by day.

I am deeply honoured to call Vietnam my home and thank the many Vietnamese who have made me feel so welcome in this beautiful and proud country. The encouragement and assistance of family and friends both old and new, including Mai, Hung, Thanh, both Richards and Hoa have supported me greatly, both practically and emotionally during my journey and stay in the centre.

I especially thank every doctor, nurse, and soldier both at senior and junior rank and all the other staff here for their kind support during my stay. I am sure with good fortitude supported by fast and careful action Vietnam will rise to the challenge of COVID-19 and continue its amazing culture and development.

VIR

 
 

Other News

.
Dong Nai prosecutes director associated with fatal wall collapse
Dong Nai prosecutes director associated with fatal wall collapse
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

The Dong Nai investigative police agency has decided to prosecute and temporarily detain Ha Duy Hai, director of Ha Hai Nga construction firm, for his alleged responsibility in a wall collapse that killed 10 people and injured 14 others 11 days ago.

Three died as scaffolding cable snaps in Kon Tum
Three died as scaffolding cable snaps in Kon Tum
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

Three workers died and many others were injured after a scaffolding cable snapped at a hydro-power plant project in Kon Tom Province on May 25.

One student killed, 12 injured as tree falls at school
One student killed, 12 injured as tree falls at school
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

A student has been killed and 12 others were injured after a large tree fell on them at a secondary school in HCM City’s District 3 on Tuesday morning.

No Smoking Challenge 2020 online contest launched
No Smoking Challenge 2020 online contest launched
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

An online contest on tobacco harm prevention was launched across Việt Nam from now till May 31 to celebrate the World No Tobacco Day (May 31) and the National No Tobacco Week 2020 (May 25-31).

Campaign on dangers of smoking carried out at bus stations
Campaign on dangers of smoking carried out at bus stations
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

An information campaign on the dangers of smoking and smoking in public is being carried out at eight bus and ferry stations in HCM City from May 2020 to June 2021 on the occasion of the World Smoke-Free Day on May 31.

Coronavirus outbreak: Five ways Europe is easing lockdown
Coronavirus outbreak: Five ways Europe is easing lockdown
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

Jogging in a Madrid park, having a Czech beer, taking a Greek ferry - Europe is opening up more.

Coronavirus: Spain to stop quarantining arrivals from 1 July
Coronavirus: Spain to stop quarantining arrivals from 1 July
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

Foreign visitors to Spain will no longer have to undergo a two-week quarantine from 1 July, the government has announced.

Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 26
Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia May 26
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

HCMC quarantines 303 people from Europe
 

Coffee farms see high yields from new trees
Coffee farms see high yields from new trees
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

Coffee farms in Kon Tum Province are producing higher yields from new coffee trees and older trees grafter with young shoots. 

Youngsters share views on building the future
Youngsters share views on building the future
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

Hundreds of Vietnamese youngsters across the country took part in the online UN75 Youth Forum on Sunday to discuss what they want in the future, a key theme of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

HCM City to merge three districts to create innovative hub
HCM City to merge three districts to create innovative hub
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

The HCM City Department of Home Affairs has submitted a plan to the People's Committee on the merger of three districts and 19 wards in the eastern side of the city.

Child-like man in Ly Son finds success in tourism
Child-like man in Ly Son finds success in tourism
FEATUREicon  25/05/2020 

A 34-year-old man with childlike appearance is a the successful investors in tourism in Ly Son District, Quang Ngai Province.

Pre-school teachers face hurdles in accessing financial support
Pre-school teachers face hurdles in accessing financial support
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

Many pre-school teachers in HCM City’s private schools have found themselves ineligible for the support package the city has allocated to help those hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coastal road to be built in Thanh Hoa Province
Coastal road to be built in Thanh Hoa Province
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

A new coastal road will be built between Hoang Hoa-Sam Son and Quang Xuong-Tinh Gia in the central province of Thanh Hoa under a public-private partnership.

Hanoi to build eight underground parking lots in Ba Dinh District
Hanoi to build eight underground parking lots in Ba Dinh District
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

Hanoi’s Transport Department has agreed with a proposal of building eight underground parking lots in Ba Dinh District.

Southern fruit farmers plagued by poor harvest, low prices
Southern fruit farmers plagued by poor harvest, low prices
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

The southern region is entering the peak harvest season for many fruits like durian, mango, rambutan, avocado, mangosteen, and jackfruit, but farmers are suffering from poor harvests.

Western Australia hit by 'once-in-a-decade' storm
Western Australia hit by 'once-in-a-decade' storm
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

A vast stretch of coast is lashed by torrential rain and huge swells, causing widespread damage.

Younger generation show off patriotism
Younger generation show off patriotism
YOUR VIETNAMicon  25/05/2020 

During the war, young people showed their undying love for the Fatherland, and were ready to sacrifice their lives for national independence. Nowadays, young people have found another way to show their love in small ways.

Vietnam named best COVID-19 fighter globally by Politico
Vietnam named best COVID-19 fighter globally by Politico
SOCIETYicon  25/05/2020 

The US news website Politico has ranked Vietnam the best performer worldwide in the fight against COVID-19.

Student a shining example of kindness in Hanoi
Student a shining example of kindness in Hanoi
SOCIETYicon  26/05/2020 

The heavy rain on an early morning in April could not stop Dinh Thi Thao and her friends starting their rounds of small houses on the outskirts of Hanoi.

 
 
 
Leave your comment on an article

OR QUICK LOGIN