For most people, especially those living far away, this sort of call might send you running to the airport when spoken by a family member. As someone who has lived far from my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador back in Canada for many years now, I know it would certainly cause alarm if my mother made the request.
However, since it recently came from the leader of my home country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it was followed by warnings of future flight restrictions and lockdowns due to concerns over the quick spread of the novel coronavirus, I’ve found myself leaving my bag just where it is.
Currently, it’s in Ho Chi Minh City, and given the state of affairs back home and in most of the Western world, I feel lucky that it’s residing here right now. Sure, things haven’t exactly been business as normal throughout Vietnam, but it’s hard to ignore the statistics.
Overall, according to the Ministry of Health as of Thursday morning, the novel coronavirus has infected over 218,000 people and killed more than 8,900 globally. At this point, Vietnam has confirmed 76 cases of COVID-19, whereas my home country has a total of 690.
That difference alone seems startling, but when you compare the populations of the two countries (Vietnam has more than double the number of people) and just how spread out the population of Canada is compared to here (Canada is almost 30 times bigger than Vietnam), it’s even more surprising to see how quickly things have turned bad on the other side of the world.
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Sadly, it’s not just in Canada. With the epicenter of the epidemic having shifted to Europe according to the World Health Organization, and the United States is possibly heading in the same direction as Italy (one of the worst-hit regions outside of China), both foreign travelers and those who call Vietnam their current home are deciding that it makes more sense to stay here instead of risking a return to more uncertain regions.
Karina Fullard, a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City from South Africa, says, “I feel safer here because the hospitals are better prepared, and the government has been doing their best to contain and prevent further spread of the virus by putting everything under lockdown.”
At the same time, she also has some hesitation in being here because her hometown in South Africa has little traffic going in and out, so she feels like it may be relatively untouched by the virus.
As someone who also grew up in a small town, I too wondered if being back in my island province might be the safest bet. After all, we did often joke as kids that it would be the best place to be when the world fell apart. Sadly, with one case already being reported there last week, it seems like we might have been wrong.
Along with the health risks of the pandemic, the financial strains are already being felt by many and will most likely only get worse as countries continue to announce closures, limit travel, and take other measures to try and handle the situation. In Vietnam, plenty of foreigners (and locals) are facing tough financial situations due to the long-term school closures and other things, and some may soon simply have to leave as their savings dwindle.
In regard to her home of Abu Dhabi, Angeli Castillo, creative director at Karma Creatives, says that things are not bad back there, but she adores how business owners in Ho Chi Minh City have been so supportive of each other.
“The pandemic has made things tough for everyone, including small businesses, but everyone here has been very considerate, even of their rivals, and I can’t imagine leaving that,” Castillo said.
Regardless of where we live and whether or not it’s our original home, one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that we will all need to work together to keep things from getting worse. From following local regulations and limiting our time outside to maintaining some sort of contact with friends and family wherever they may be, the call to help those in our community is strong.
For many of us foreigners in Vietnam right now, it’s also the one we’re going to answer.