Vietnamese expats fearful amid India Covid-19 carnage

Nguyen Thi Toan, a Vietnamese resident of Mumbai, wakes up to the sound of ambulances every morning these days.

"Too many Covid-19 patients and too many people have died, I have no idea whether I will be in an ambulance in the next few days," said Toan, who still goes to work every day wearing a mask and carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Six of her Indian friends have been infected with the novel coronavirus, "so I must be on my guard all the time," said Toan, a cook working at a local restaurant in Mumbai.

"I have never seen and felt the thin line between life and death until this outbreak," she said.

A woman is consoled after her husband died due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outside a mortuary of a Covid-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, April 15, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Amit Dave.

A woman is consoled after her husband died due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outside a mortuary of a Covid-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, April 15, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Amit Dave.

The stress and anxiety exerted by India’s crisis are keenly felt by more than a hundred Vietnamese living in the country.

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally admitted that a "storm" of infections had shaken India, as the country set a new global record for the highest number of Covid-19 infections in a day. Many experts have pointed out that the actual number of infections and deaths is most likely much higher than the official figures.

Officially, the number of cases in India surged by 362,902 in the past 24 hours. As of Tuesday, the country of 1.3 billion people has recorded a total of 17,9 million infections and 201,165 coronavirus deaths, after 3,285 more died overnight, health ministry data showed.

The new outbreak in India is so severe that hospitals in the most severely affected states are running out of oxygen and beds, and many people who have fallen ill are being turned away.

Le Thu Uyen, 28, has stayed in her New Delhi apartment for the last six months, only buying food from online stores with contactless delivery services. But that did not keep her safe from the virus.

"I have been infected and have no idea about the source. Now I just try to be strong and fight against it, because if I get worse, there would be no oxygen to cure me," she said, adding a lot of her colleagues and friends in New Delhi have been infected recently.

She said a Vietnamese family in her neighborhood has four of its members being infected after their son ventured out with his friends. This has worried many residents, who never step out of their apartments now, she said.

Uyen’s neighborhood has been quiet for days as people only go out for vaccinations or grocery stores.

Do Thanh Hai, Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Vietnam in India, said Vietnamese expats in the country were facing many difficulties apart from the very high risk of contracting the dreaded Covid-19 disease.

If they get infected, the risk of serious illness or death is very high because India's health system is overwhelmed already. Traveling and getting access to essentials have also become difficult these days, and the psychological stress they are experiencing is high, he said.

While it is being said that latest outbreak has caught India off guard, many Vietnamese have been disappointed and even angry at how careless Indian have been in fighting the pandemic.

Earlier this month, millions of pilgrims gathered for a religious ritual at the confluence of rivers including the Ganges. They did not wear masks or practice any semblance of social distancing, according to local media.

"They were nonchalant and now thousands of people are facing deadly outcomes," said Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, a diplomat residing in the city of Hyderabad, Telangana, with her husband and children.

Van, who was infected several months ago, added that many Indians still meet, hug and talk to others.

"Even when they clearly have symptoms, they still reject the tests and self-quarantine, saying the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax," Van lamented.

As a diplomat, the Vietnamese woman has attended many events with high-profile people in Hyderabad. "Most of them did not wear masks and got annoyed when seeing my husband and I wear them," she recalled.

In Mogra, West Bengal, Thong Tran, a Vietnamese engineer, was also shocked at the festival crowds and rallies he saw during his business trips to Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Bhubaneswar.

But it is good that the media was doing a good job of telling people to wear masks when going out, said Tran, traveling to India with a group of Vietnamese engineers.

"We have no reason to venture out if we do not have a mask, because the police will find us and stores won’t let us buy anything," he said.

A vegetable vendor in Mogra, the Indian state of West Bengal, rejects buyers who dont wear masks, April 24, 2021. Photo by Thong Tran.

A vegetable vendor in Mogra, the Indian state of West Bengal, rejects buyers who don't wear masks, April 24, 2021. Photo by Thong Tran.

Lie low or leave

As local crematoriums and cemeteries are overwhelmed in many of the most afflicted states, and harrowing reports of the medical system collapsing come out, most of the Vietnamese expats decided to return home or go to another country.

According to Counselor Hai, most of around 1,000 Vietnamese expats in India have been sent home.

The 100 or so who still remain live in different parts of India, and the embassy is keeping in touch with them to provide timely help when needed, he said.

Van, whose husband is a British diplomat, also flew back to London one day before the U.K. government added India to its travel "red list" last Friday.

"The situation was getting worse, getting out of India was the best option I could think of," said Van, who wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to work remotely with her Indian colleagues.

Van said many rich people in India have hired private planes and left the country for Dubai and from there to other destinations.

Among the Vietnamese expats saying back is Tran, who heads a group of Vietnamese workers helping his partner build a seafood processing factory. He said he had no choice but to stay in India and finish the job.

"All my Vietnamese colleagues are required to stay inside their hotel rooms, they are only allowed to travel to the factory, and vice versa," Thong said, adding that he has reduced the number of Indian workers from ten to three to make sure they have less contact with outsiders.

"The Covid-19 pandemic spares no one, but we have to be here, keep calm and do the job before we can go home."

In New Delhi, Uyen, not wanting to reveal her real name for fear that her family in Vietnam would know that she was infected, is trying to her finish her work soon. She yearns for home.

"Most Vietnamese have left, so people like me are rare, but we keep in touch every day and are trying to wrap up every thing to be home as soon as possible," Uyen said.

Both she and Thong are hoping for a repatriation flight in May.

In Mumbai, Toan said she would stay back and remain vigilant.

"I don’t want to return home and accidentally bring the virus back, I will be here, earn money, and keep my masks on until I can get vaccinated."

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