So-called humanitarian flights are bringing back overseas Vietnamese from Europe as the continent has become the new epicentre of the global health crisis.
Vietnamese flock home to avoid worst of outbreak
Along with many Vietnamese, a lot of European people tried their luck at the check-in counter at Frankfurt Airport. They had booked tickets with Vietnam Airlines but were ultimately denied because these flights were only meant for those who held Vietnamese passports.
Among thousands of people at the airport, many disappointed eyes could be spotted. A young couple said that they wanted to go anywhere as long as it is not Europe. “I have never thought that there would be a day like this,” said Nguyen Duy, one of people present on the last flight.
In addition to coming from Germany, passengers came from the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They were all afraid of the measures that have been promoted in Europe as well as differing views on the use of face masks.
On March 16, Vietnam Airlines’ four flights containing 180 Vietnamese people from Europe landed back in their home country. One day later, the EU officially closed the borders and halted all flights to and within Europe.
One traveller shared that arriving back in Vietnam was the most important thing right now. “When the flight landed, everybody sighed with relief. For us, returning to Vietnam is more vital than being infected or not,” Duy said.
Vo Thanh Nhu Anh, a student in the UK who returned to Vietnam last week was isolating in Ho Chi Minh City said, “I came back to Vietnam to avoid the virus. I don’t know when I will return to the United Kingdom but I will not go before the epidemic is controlled.”
While South Korea and Japan seem to have slowly gotten things under control, European countries were seen to be a little too optimistic. In France, the situation did not stop people from trying to achieve a Guinness World Record on March 7.
Some 3,500 people dressed up as smurfs and gathered in the town of Landerneau. Their goal was to set a record for the largest-ever gathering of the blue Belgian comic characters.
Since then, France has seen over 12,000 infected cases and around 450 deaths, with the city now being forced into a lockdown situation.
Europe has become the new epicentre with increasing numbers of infected people, and Italy surpassing China in the number of deaths.
“More cases are now being reported every day, with the numbers even higher than in China at the peak of the outbreak,” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a recent conference in Geneva.
Right after China, Italy has recorded the most cases with more than 47,000 infections, followed by Iran, Spain, Germany, and the US.
In recent days, most of the overseas Vietnamese in Europe have been on edge as it is becoming harder to protect oneself from the COVID-19 epidemic.
Wendy Nam Phuong, an overseas student in the UK told VIR, “It’s tough right now. I have to juggle between anxious calls from home about my health and going to university where everything goes on as usual. Whatever I try to do to protect myself, it doesn’t seem to be enough for my family at home, yet it looks overdramatic for me as a student in the UK.”
She explained that for her as a Vietnamese, it is perfectly normal to wear a face mask in public, especially now during the outbreak. Furthermore, large gatherings or schools are cancelled in Vietnam and many other parts of Asia.
If people in her home country catch the virus, they will be quarantined immediately and treated at specialised hospitals.
“As a student living in the UK, I’ve been advised against wearing masks and to continue with social meetups and school as long as I wash my hands regularly. If I catch the virus, I’ll need to call the hotline and self-isolate at home. It’s unlikely for me to get into hospitals because priority is given to more vulnerable residents.”
Ngoc Anh Lukas, a Vietnamese student who chose to stay in France, told VIR that most of the Vietnamese students in France returned to their homeland to avoid the health crisis.
Meanwhile, according to Lukas, Vietnamese with jobs and families in France are not going back to Vietnam because they are afraid of crowded places such as airlines.
“Instead of going back to their country as they wish, staying in France seems to be the only option for them to continue their career and protect their families.” Lukas added. VIR
The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) has recommended Vietnamese students abroad consider carefully before returning to Vietnam due to the risks of spreading COVID-19 and travel restrictions imposed by many countries.
Noi Bai International Airport has received a rising number of people returning from European countries.