Schools have been closed, but now they’re opening again. Maybe. More than 10,000 people were just quarantined in the north. But cases remain low, compared to China. So read on to learn more.
Saigon seems a little sleepy lately, a tired version of itself. Gone are the bustling streets filled with the sounds of traffic and Vietnamese conversations. Why? Welcome to coronavirus Vietnam.
The latest news that the government has quarantined more than 10,000 people in villages outside Hanoi after six tested positive for the virus has everyone scrambling to buy masks. Meanwhile, businesses continue to suffer. Many restaurants in Nha Trang remain closed because the Chinese tourists that frequent their establishments cannot enter the country. Neither can others who visited China in the last two weeks. Tour companies in Hanoi are receiving fewer bookings. It is a tough time.
Education is suffering too. The Vietnamese government announced that all schools will remain closed the rest of the month, another hit for the hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers who have not had any paid working hours since before the Tet Holiday. The plan was to reopen all schools on Feb. 17, but after six people tested positive for the virus last week in a village outside Hanoi, local governments, including Ho Chi Minh City, requested that schools remain closed through the end of March. Two more weeks is the compromise, for now.
What is the coronavirus?
The coronavirus is part of a broad range of viruses, which can vary from a mild cold to a life-threatening condition. Its official name is COVID-19.
Transmission occurs between animals and humans. Scientists believe the coronavirus originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China. But they still dispute the host. It was either a bat or a pangolin, both popular delicacies in China.
How dangerous is it?
The outbreak of the coronavirus brings back memories of SARS back in 2002-03, though as of today the coronavirus is more deadly. It has killed more than 1,300 people worldwide and has infected more than 60,000. These figures are alarming, but keep in mind the vast majority of cases and deaths have occurred in China. Otherwise, the only fatalities: one each in Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines.
So far only 15 people in the whole of Vietnam have been infected, which means you’re relatively safe considering the two countries share borders. However, one of those infected is a 3-month-old baby who caught it from her grandmother. The ones most at risk are young children, the elderly, and those who already have a pre-existing health condition.
Three of the 15 confirmed cases in Vietnam have been discharged. This is because the effects of the virus eventually subside once the body has fought off the flu-like symptoms. The government here anticipates further cases and has quarantined hundreds of locals who returned from China recently.
What are the symptoms?
There are several symptoms that one experiences when infected with COVID-19. These involve respiratory problems, shortness of breath, a cough and a fever. In severe cases, you could have respiratory failure or pneumonia, either of which could lead to death.
Knowing whether you are infected can also be a challenge. You could have the virus but only show symptoms after a couple of weeks, so you could potentially spread the virus to those around you without your knowledge. But you probably have to be very sick and in close contact with others to infect someone else, according to the World Health Organization.
How did it enter Vietnam?
Coronavirus Vietnam allegedly came from a cruise ship, The World Dream, which departed from Guangzhou to Danang. Doctors in Guangzhou confirmed that two people were carrying the contagion.
Now business owners are trying to adapt. Michael Hardy, creator of the Hardy Bar, has noticed less demand for his sugar-free granola bars. His losses, up to this point, have been offset by the amount he saves in salary for his employee who remains home with her family. But he just learned that three of his vendors closed their doors indefinitely.
“Definitely taking a hit on sales from that,” he said.
Vietnamese trade officials think the country’s GDP could fall about a half percent in the first quarter of 2020. Failure to contain COVID-19 could mean more losses.
How has the Vietnamese government responded?
The potential for the virus spreading in the north increases as more people travel across Vietnam’s northern border with China. There are 10 confirmed cases in Vinh Phuc province.
The government has introduced a number of restrictions to reduce the chance of spreading the disease. There are field hospitals near the border, in Hanoi, and in Cu Chi just north of Saigon. All together they combine for thousands of beds to help people until they pass the quarantine period, virus free.
Another precaution has involved severing all flights to China. However, flights to both Hong Kong and Taiwan are still operational.
What can you do to stay safe?
People are wearing face masks more than ever in Vietnam, even indoors, to reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19. However, there have been reports that because the virus is so small, the majority of masks do not offer the airtight protection needed to ensure your protection.
Try to pick up a mask with a certification such as N95 or N99, which shows the percentage of pollutants your mask is able to filter out. These do not offer absolute protection, due to the size of the virus, but they’re better than the surgical masks that are popular with the locals.
The tough part might be finding the masks. Check all stores, pharmacies, anywhere you think might have them. They go fast.
The best way to avoid the virus is to reduce bodily contact with other people in public. That means that if you do need to shake someone’s hand, you should try to sanitize your hands after. Thankfully sanitizer gel is readily available in most convenience stores and public spaces as part of the government’s preventative measures.
Gareth O’Hara, owner of Electric Smiles bicycle tours in Hanoi, said he and his team use natural tea tree oil solution to disinfect their helmets and bicycles after each use. Sadly, there are fewer to disinfect at the moment.
“Hopefully things improve in March,” he said.
What’s next with coronavirus Vietnam?
The virus can be difficult to put in perspective. There are dangers, naturally, but the likelihood of it becoming a worldwide threat is slim. Same with this whole coronavirus Vietnam situation, from the northern border to the southern coasts.
One pizzeria appears to feel differently. The Saigon restaurant posted a sign outside its District 2 location that reads: “Really sorry, we temporarily do not serve guest from China. Thank you!”
A bit extreme. Just wear a good mask, sanitize your hands often and think positive.