Coronavirus Report: Vietnam

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Tour guide in Vietnam.

Living abroad, I read the news about coronavirus hysteria in the U.S. with a feeling of separation. Reports of toilet paper hoarding, fights over bread in supermarkets, withering medical supplies and even deaths are the opposite of the life I’m leading now, as a teacher in Vietnam.

Vietnam was one of the first countries to be infected. It started in January and topped at 16. The government reacted swiftly, shutting down schools and restricting flights from infected countries. An entire town, one where I used to live, was quarantined.

Tourism was stifled. Le Thi Lien Trinh, a guide from Hue, said her company, Brother’s Travels, had 50 percent of its bookings canceled.

Then a small miracle happened. On Feb. 28, Al Jazeera reported that all 16 cases were cured.

In March, round two started. A Vietnamese heiress went shopping in Milan and infected others on her flight. Her street in Hanoi was quarantined. Neighbors were tested, treated and brought daily food rations.

Other infected passengers scattered across Vietnam, disseminating the illness. On March 22, the number of cases reached 100, including many foreigners.

The government acted swiftly again. They stopped issuing travel visas on March 16. A few days later, they started quarantining arrivals.

Paul Gianni, an American who has called Vietnam home since 2018, was sent into quarantine when he returned from vacation on March 19. He’s bored, but describes it as “relaxing … three hots [meals] and a cot rent free.” He was lucky to make it back. Vietnam is now banning foreigners from entry.

However, day-to-day life is quite normal, although we’re required to wear masks in public and stores have bottles of hand sanitizer outside to use before entering. Food, toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitizers are readily available.

A sense of community had taken over. Restaurants are open, but quiet. Some are offering discounts to lure customers. My landlord, who knows I’m unemployed, has reduced my rent and informed me that I don’t have to pay until schools reopen.

I have faith in the health care system. I’ve heard no news about medical supply shortages and Vietnamese researchers are making advances. Plus, they have a proven track record. In 2003, the World Health Organization declared Vietnam the first nation to contain and eliminate SARS.

I don’t know how long the pandemic will last, but I plan to wait it out here. If my street should become quarantined, I’m confident that the government will provide, as they have for others. With a population of 95 million, the fact that there are so few cases and no deaths is far more reassuring than anything a bumbling president could say to me. With borders closed, I feel that it is only a matter of time until the virus is contained again here.

Hand sanitizers are always outside a supermarket for customers.
Now in quarantine, Paul Gianni on holiday in central Vietnam. Photos by Jody Kurash.
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