50-hour trip and 14 days in quarantine

An overseas Vietnamese student’s appreciation journal amid COVID-19

11:11 | 23/04/2020 Society

Under the drizzle, people arriving at the Noi Bai International Airport earlier tonight wait to register before moving into the quarantine dorm in Phap Van - Tu Hiep, Hanoi for 14 days. Lining up in the queue, I remember my 50-hour trip from Canada to Vietnam.  

Arriving at Qatar International Airport two days ago, I was stunned by reading an emergency announcement from Qatar Airways. To stop the spread of COVID-19, the Vietnamese government decided to temporarily close the border to all inbound international flights after 12 a.m., March 20, including flights containing domestic citizens. My flight was cancelled.

The Vietnamese policy to international students and people living abroad was a different picture to me. The nation has been doing a good job fighting the novel coronavirus and welcoming its citizens home.

Vietnam Airlines, the national flag carrier, has operated flights to bring people home from many countries and regions worldwide, which have been infected seriously.

“We are fighting a fight with no one left behind,” said the government.

an overseas vietnamese students appreciation journal amid covid 19

Health workers wear protective suits while on duty at the Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam. They gave all passengers a warm welcome home.

Photo: Nam Tran/Tuoi Tre Newspaper

But, we were stuck in a foreign country, not knowing how to go home, scared of the risks of getting the virus in such a crowded environment with people coming from everywhere.

However, all Vietnamese people waiting at the line were calm. From the bottom of our hearts, we knew the government would do the best to protect and bring us home. Our home country – Vietnam, is like a Mother, holding all its “children” to get through even the most furious storm.

My flight to Hanoi was replaced with another one, which would fly to Bangkok, Thailand instead.

Being confused and fatigued after hours flying and waiting, I arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. Walking up to the counter to check-in, I was stunned the second time.

My flight to Hanoi was cancelled again. There hadn’t been any further announcements from the Vietnamese government.

About a half of hour later, a Qatar Airline’s attendant ran up to me.

“Are you Vietnamese?” he asked.

“I am,” I said.

“Good, because right now, only Vietnamese citizens can be on board. Your government only accepts opening the border to domestic citizens,” he said.

I held my passport tighter. More than ever, I’m proud of being a Vietnamese.

“I know they won’t leave us,” I thought.

an overseas vietnamese students appreciation journal amid covid 19

The quarantine building is divided into different areas. Each floor is dedicated to a different flight, region or country. The main door of each floor is locked and guarded by the military. People are asked to only stay in their rooms. Photo: Cindy Nguyen

After landing, we were required to fill out health declaration forms. All passengers from all inbound flights would be quarantined in a centralized isolation region in 14 days.

We stayed in line to go through the health quarantine.

Medical, police, military and airport staff had been mobilized at the airport. They were all equipped with protective suits and gear.

We couldn’t see their faces, so no one could identify them. We call them “national heroes who don’t wear capes.”

As we entered the medical isolation area and waited to be transferred to the quarantine region, a “hero,” whom we couldn’t tell his social position, walked up to us.

“Everyone, welcome home.”

Back to the quarantine area, after getting body-temperature checked, we arrive at our assigned room.

A typical room has four bunk beds, equipped with military blankets, pillow, mat, curtain and other necessities including drinking water, towels, face masks, hand sanitizers, mouthwash, toothbrush, toothpaste, soaps, hangers, and other essential toiletries.

an overseas vietnamese students appreciation journal amid covid 19

A nurse in a protective suit is doing a medical test for people in quarantine. People are allowed to leave the quarantine areas after being tested negative with the virus twice within 14 days.

Photo: Cindy Nguyen

After our first night in the dorm, nurses come in to perform our first coronavirus test the next morning. We were asked to fill out health symptoms and traveling history forms and check body temperature twice every day.

After a few days, I start getting used to the routine here. Meals are delivered to our door at the same time every day. Breakfast is at around 7:30, lunch is at noon, and dinner is at 6:30.

Every mealtime, we love joking around that we’ve never felt so deeply in love with our nation like this before. Leaving and being abroad for years, then coming back while confronting difficulties, we’re truly appreciated for our government and all the people’s hard work to give us the healthy living conditions and nutritious meals in quarantine.

Staying in quarantine for two weeks, it’s been a pleasure to me, especially as an international student. I’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness so many heartwarming stories and valiant efforts of how Vietnamese people scarify their personal benefits for the nation and for those in vulnerable situations. These beautiful deeds have taught us - the young generation - valuable lessons to live responsibly, kindly and dedicatedly. Together, we’ll get the strength to get through even the toughest challenge.

There are military forces and volunteers from various cities and provinces in Vietnam preparing daily meals to supply for quarantine areas, helping the government in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are doctors and nurses staying in hospitals, risking their own lives to fight with the cruel virus to bring back healthy people to their families and society.

There are medical and military staff taking short naps outside on mats and carton box’s pieces after overworking to provide the best services for citizens staying in quarantine.

There are many social workers and students who voluntarily work to support the government. They haven’t come home for months.

an overseas vietnamese students appreciation journal amid covid 19

Anh Tuan Pham delivers daily meals for people in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, wearing his protective suit. Pham is one of thousands of medical staff, who hasn’t been home for months, in order to help take care of people in quarantine and prevent the spread of the virus. Photo: Cindy Nguyen

And, there is our government. They’ve announced flexible but strict policies and restrictions toward various situations, ensuring not only the public’s health, but also taking care of the financial crisis nationwide. Vietnam has reported no coronavirus death, marking a historic victory in the world’s fight with the novel pandemic.

After being announced negative for COVID-19 the second time after two weeks, we’re allowed to go home. Military staff wait outside and help us bringing luggage outside.

Coming home from the quarantine areas, there’re many memorable stories I’ll never allow myself to forget. One of those was on a Sunday evening.

There was a knock at my door.

“The meal is ready,” someone yelled.

I walked out to get food for everyone in my room. I noticed the man delivering the food had red eyes behind his big glasses.

“Is everything ok?” I asked.

He looked up, then smiled.

“Yes, everything is ok. Today is my son’s sixth birthday.”

I was speechless in a few seconds.

He continued.

“It’s fine, I called him today and wished him a happy birthday. He told me he’s proud of me and called me his hero.”

“You’re our hero. We’re proud of you too,” I smiled back.

Cindy Nguyen