Kathy N. is an American expat living in Ho Chi Minh City with her husband, Martin S.
After traveling through Germany to visit family, on March 15th I returned with my husband Martin to Vietnam, where we live and work.
We took flights from Frankfurt to Dubai to Ho Chi Minh City, and arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport at 2:30 PM.
We had been warned at the airport in Frankfurt that incoming travelers from Europe may need to go into a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Vietnam. But we decided to take that risk rather than potentially being later banned from entering the country.
It was clear once we entered the area for immigration that it would take quite some time to get through: hundreds of people traveling from Europe and the US were being sent to the area marked “quarantine zone”.
At about 5:00 PM we learned that some travelers who had landed at 6:00 AM that day were still waiting to be taken to the quarantine center.
We thought that at that rate we would be spending the night at the airport, but after being ushered to the second holding area, we were finally transported to a quarantine centre – a military base in District 12.
Arriving at the quarantine center
Each floor has 15 rooms, with eight bunk beds per room. We are told that there is a maximum capacity for 500 persons within this quarantine center.
At first the health workers placed me and Martin in different rooms, as there was a rigid rule to keep women and men in separate rooms.
After we explained that we are a married couple and would prefer a room together, the staff said they would see if they could find another room.
As I began to settle into my room, one of the health workers came back and said they were able to put us in a room with another couple, Thao and Vinh, and their one-year-old son Luca.
We were happy to be in the same room together, and with an adorable baby to boot.
There was a soldier on a loudspeaker announcing the current statistics of the quarantine facility. As of 9:00 PM on that first evening, there were 40 foreigners registered.
That first evening, we make fast friends with our French neighbors, Olivier and Jaime, and our Irish neighbor Simon.
We chat about our travels and mention that we have brought with us German schnapps and Swiss chocolate – which we bartered for some sausages that Olivier brought from France. It makes for a quick dinner and we all then fall fast asleep.
On day two, we were immediately all tested for COVID-19 , and over the next days a few travelers that tested positive were moved from quarantine to a hospital to be treated.
Now half way through the 14-day quarantine period, we no longer see people being moved out of quarantine (as the remaining travelers still here have tested negative).
Below I describe a typical day in the quarantine camp.
The health workers come to check our temperature at 9 AM and bring us breakfast, lunch and dinner. We make jokes with the staff that they should come earlier because we do not dare to have hot coffee before we get the temperature check out of the way.
They joke back that we have a choice of chicken or chicken for lunch (they are kidding, we usually have a choice between two different dishes).
In the evening when the sun begins to go down is when the quarantine center begins to feel like a summer camp. While we must wear our face masks at all times in the public spaces, the weather is cool enough to be outside.
Some people play basketball, some kick a soccer ball around or play badminton. My husband and I prefer to run around the facility or up and down the five flights of stairs, while others listen to podcasts and take a brisk walk.
Three times a day, the soldiers do a roll call to deliver the many packages from the loved ones. Last night the soldiers even organized karaoke on the loudspeakers and everyone in the camp was cheering them on (seemed like the soldiers chose their best singers as there were certainly no boos heard).
Life goes on as people continue to digitally connect with their loved ones, keeping up with work and taking client calls, and in our particular situation, witnessing baby Luca take his first steps ever towards his dad.
Yet there are some things that could certainly be improved: we can order food and drinks into the quarantine camp, but whether or not it is accepted is at the discretion of the guard on duty; military music at 5:30 AM is a little extra; some days there was a drinking water shortage.
The thing that has impressed us from day one are the health workers that hustle day in and day out. Not only do they bring us our meals and check our temperature, clean bins and answer all kinds of questions, they ask us if we need anything and try to really take care of us and make us as comfortable as they can.
All while smiling and cracking jokes.
Being in the quarantine center has changed our perspective. While we constantly read news on both Vietnam and global COVID-19 statistics (for Vietnam as of 23 March: 116 cases, 17 recovered and no deaths), within the quarantine center we see the fight firsthand with faces and people rather than statistics and numbers.
It is clear to us that the soldiers at the frontline are the health workers, working tirelessly and courageously. For us it may seem like a long 14 days but the health workers have been working to fight the COVID-19 war for months and continue to battle forward.
We are halfway through our quarantine. All in all, we will be happy to return back home in a week. And we will certainly be leaving with a greater appreciation of all the efforts of the health workers who soldier on to keep us safe.