Nietnamese Newspaper VNExpress International. By Vo Xuan Son March 26, 2020 | 08:25 am GMT+7
Vietnam’s has stood united against hatred and discrimination used by enemies for their atrocities. In the Covid-19 war, our solidarity’s just as important.
In 2003, a friend of mine was sent to a centralized quarantining facility near the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City when the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, was marching through Asia.
He sneaked out and went home. Flying from the U.S. to Vietnam, he had been found running a fever. In the quarantine camp, he said, people were packed close together and there was almost no method applied to prevent transmission of the coronavirus that causes SARS.
He said that since he did not have a fever, he decided to go home because he was afraid he would catch the infection from those in the quarantine camp. He came to my clinic for a health check. Luckily, it turned out that he took the right decision. He was completely healthy.
The fear of getting infected when staying in centralized facilities for quarantine is real, and this can lead to negative reactions that we can guess.
I have just seen some pictures on the internet which are said to be taken by a Vietnamese American who had been quarantined for 14 days following the preventive protocol in Vietnam for the novel coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 respiratory illness.
That man complained about the quality of the quarantining facility, saying the restroom was dirty and that one quarantine room had up to 16 people, and people lay on bunk beds set close together, heightening the infection threat.
What we are doing now, in quarantining people, is actually separating those who are at risk of carrying the virus from the community, thus preventing the spread of the epidemic, which is truly necessary. Yet, if there is no measure to prevent cross-infection, there would be transmission risk among those kept at centralized quarantine camps.
If anyone is worried about the ability of such a camp to guarantee no cross-infection will take place, we should assess whether such a threat is real. I think this is a reasonable worry.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son had recently demanded that quarantine camps in the south central province of Binh Thuan, where nine Covid-19 patients have been confirmed so far, take steps to ensure no cross-infections occur.
On the other hand, we also have to contend with the psychological trauma of contracting the novel coronavirus, which is something like what happens when you learn you have got cancer or the HIV. This trauma exists even if the novel coronavirus is not as serious as cancer or HIV, because the way we have come up with a series of defensive measures has made many people fear it even more than cancer or AIDS.
A friend of mine narrated this joke recently: A man was coughing and was worried if he was infected with the new coronavirus. After getting a health check, he breathed a sigh of relief and told everybody that he just had lung cancer, not the coronavirus.
Although it is just a joke, which is a bit cruel, it reflects the feeling that many have about the pneumonia illness called Covid-19.
Coming back to the question of quarantining, it can also be said that it is not funny at all to be isolated. I have never stayed in a quarantine camp but I have experienced the feelings of losing my freedom. So when I hear that some have willingly accepted to stay in quarantine, I admire them.
Yet there have been individuals who have not fully and truthfully reported to the authorities where they’d been after they have tested positive. Those people are blameworthy, but why do they hide things? They do so because this virus may expose their private matters, business secrets and tricks to the world. If this happened, the public would jump in, stick their noses into the personal life of those individuals and nitpick everything they can.
At the time of a pandemic, only those who are completely righteous and entirely responsible to the community, or have no secret businesses can feel free to declare everything they have done and everywhere they have been to the authorities.
So what can we do?
In case we are subjected to quarantine, we can try just a little harder to complete that two-week assignment. And in case we don’t have to be quarantined, let’s have some sympathy for others that do.
Let’s look at the patients as those who are experiencing a huge psychological shock and under much pressure. There have been calls for an investigation into the first Covid-19 patient of Binh Thuan, a businesswoman found infected after returning from the U.S., because, the argument goes, she posed a serious threat to the community.
The calls came after this woman was found hiding information that she had stopped by Ho Chi Minh City and met some people there, following her U.S. trip. As a result, she transmitted the virus to two men in the city, who later transmitted it to another woman.
But deep down, we should feel sympathetic for the ones who have tested positive for the virus, as they would probably feel as though everything has fallen apart in just a blink of an eye. Exerting more public pressure on them, treating them like criminals and criticizing their personal life will only create more difficulties in the process of quarantining and treating the Covid-19 disease.
The stress that Covid-19 patients endure comes not just from the illness itself but also from the public’s attitude towards them.
With the complicated development of the pandemic, building high-quality quarantine camps is an idea that should be considered. The government can establish quarantine areas that are more private and have better quality, but patients would have to pay a certain fee to stay there. This has already been done and is a move to support.
Though it has been regulated that the state will cover all the expenditure on quarantine for all and the treatment cost for patients who are Vietnamese citizens, if we turn part of this process into a business in which those who can afford it can pay to be quarantined as they want, the state budget would have some burden removed.
The government should continue encouraging operators of resorts that have separate villas and bungalow to use those facilities as quarantine camps for those who want more privacy and comfort. The authorities can make sure that the quarantined person is strictly monitored, while that person pays for accommodation and even the health checks and resort management fees.
What we have been doing, using the tax that the public pays to quarantine those who are not Vietnamese nationals, is not a right move, I feel. That budget is already limited and should be spent properly. It should be regulated that foreigners entering Vietnam must pay a deposit for deportation, and in case they are subjected to quarantine but refuse or they do not have enough money to cover the quarantine cost, they should not be allowed to enter the nation and be deported, losing the deposit as well.
I have also seen many negative reactions towards overseas Vietnamese as well as Vietnamese studying and working abroad who have returned to their home country.
Whether they have come back to Vietnam to work or simply escape from the expanding outbreaks outside Vietnam, they all have their own reasons. And if they are not corrupt officials who have siphoned off funds from the state budget and used it to buy themselves a position abroad, fleeing from pollution and poverty, every overseas Vietnamese deserves to be welcomed back home.
We should remember that overseas Vietnamese have contributed to Vietnam through the remittances they have sent home. No one should be treated as a bad person when they choose to return to their home.
Any criticism must be specific and name only individuals who have been too selfish and demanding.
The entire nation has been fighting the pandemic as its top duty, but we also have to limit its impact on our daily life, on social psychology, and consider what we need to do on that front.
I’d like to confirm one thing. This pneumonia illness called Covid-19 is not as dangerous for patients as other some cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or high blood pressure that a majority of Vietnamese people have.
But its pressure on the healthcare system should be taken seriously: If the number of cases stays at several hundred, and dozens become critical, our healthcare system can help them recover. But if infections jump to tens of thousands, and along with that, many patients needs resuscitation or ventilators to help them breathe because they cannot do it on their own, the system will be overloaded.
Covid-19 will become dangerous for the community if it spins out of control and spreads widely, impacting the medical system’s ability to tackle it.
Vietnam’s strategy in fighting and preventing the Covid-19 is now focused on curbing the spread of infection and limiting the number of fresh cases. Identifying outbreak areas, quarantining and social distancing are the best solutions now. Together, we can prevent the new coronavirus from spreading.
What we all need to do, for now, is to enclose ourselves in one place, but keep our hearts wide open.
*Vo Xuan Son is a doctor the EXSON Center for Minimally Invasive Spine and Spinal Cord Care in HCMC. The opinions expressed are his own.