Life inside Vietnam's COVID-19 quarantine zone, ‘this feels more like a holiday camp’
|Foreigners in Hanoi trust Vietnam’s Covid-19 containing ability|
|Vietnam requires all citizens, foreigners to wear masks at crowded places|
|Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs "entry-exit policies" for foreigners over COVID-19|
|Gavin Wheeldon inside the quarantine zone in Hanoi.|
5am – I land at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport with hopes of a new life in my favourite country. I finally made it. As we leave the plane, we’re greeted with barriers and must complete health declarations. People are being swabbed and staff are wearing protective clothing. It’s all very real now. It’s no longer a headline.
Each of us must wait to be swabbed and give up our passports. Suddenly I’m grateful I filled in the online declaration and skipped the queue. I’m met with more forms, more confusion. Finally, they take swab samples from my throat and nose and I’m gestured to sit in a specific area.
I look back at the slow- moving queue. Westerners, Vietnamese, each of them waiting. As the hours pass, unrest grows and none of us are given information. A nearby elderly holiday group complains but it becomes increasingly evident that it’s not just us who are confused – the staff aren’t sure what to do with us. I realise that somewhere, someone is having a meeting about where to send us.
About 4-5 hours in, we’re suddenly told we have two choices. Take our passports and buy another flight out or go into 14-day quarantine and enter Vietnam. Everything will be free unless we test positive, then foreigners will need to pay any hospital bills. Vietnamese will be treated for free.
|Under the Government’s decision which is effective from March 15 for 30 days, Foreigners who are experts, business managers, highly-skilled workers entering Vietnam will be subject to medical checks and quarantine procedures in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health.|
As people complain and ask repetitive questions, I feel sorry for the translator. She’s here to help us. Suddenly it all becomes very human, we’re guests in a country doing their best to protect themselves and are extending us that courtesy. Such is the good nature of Vietnam. The Vietnamese all enter the quarantine zone and the rest of us make our choices. Whichever choice we take, there’s no turning back. We’re down to four westerners, total strangers with a common goal to get through this. We don’t know what awaits us or where we’re going, only rumours of being taken to far-away places.
We’re taken to what looks like a cargo entrance and board coaches. Our passports go into a bright yellow biohazard bag and the realisation hits me: we’re dangerous material. As we’re driven out of the airport, we speculate what the conditions might be. Will we be fed enough? Will we be in close proximity with the sick? The scenery changes from busy streets to highways to countryside until we reach a military base.
|The quarantine zone.|
The airport was chaotic, but quarantine is highly organised. It’s clear that while the rest of the world waited, Vietnam has been preparing
They spray the coach with disinfectant as we enter and take us to a huge courtyard where our luggage is sprayed. I look around and there are two huge dormitories and fencing. Everyone wears protective clothing. One by one we register and are instructed to our rooms. It becomes immediately apparent that they’ve kept us Europeans away from the others and are separating men and women. Anyone vulnerable or with children go into a separate room. The airport was chaotic, but quarantine is highly organised. It’s clear that while the rest of the world waited, Vietnam has been preparing.
|Luggage is sprayed.|
As I walk to my room, I look around at the scenery. I see fencing, training grounds and fields in the distance with farmers at work. Conditions are far better than I expected. The four Westerners share a room, with 10 military bunk-beds. We talk, look around, and get some well needed sleep. The next morning, an argument arises between us about talking while people are sleeping. We settle it then and there, but it’s clear we need to be mindful of one another. Banh Mi arrives for breakfast and satisfies every craving – I’ve missed the flavour of real Banh Mi.
|A Gavin's roommate.|
Later, a soldier returns having purchased a SIM card for me. I wanted to tip him for helping me since I got here but he refuses, only taking money for the SIM. Our translator arrives shortly and asks us about our time here. She revealed that she wasn’t from an embassy, she volunteered to be here. She took the risk to help us. We find out unofficially, the results came in overnight and that we all tested negative except an elderly gentleman in business class. I’m filled with relief but also anxiety. Did I stand near him at some point? Did I touch something he might have touched? All I know is he didn’t come with us after the airport. We reach out to loved ones and reassure them but tell them we’ll be here for the full 14 days.
Outside, everything is peaceful. The location is quiet, the soldiers work tirelessly to sterilise the rooms daily, log our temperature and clear out our bins. They live here to help their country and despite what they might have heard, they’re friendly and caring.
So far, this feels more like a holiday camp than a quarantine.
|Soldiers work tirelessly to sterilise the rooms daily.|
(Words and images by Gavin Wheeldon)
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