Editor's note: Ryan Patey is a Canadian citizen currently living in Vietnam. He offers his take on wearing face masks in the country presently battling the novel coronavirus, after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc underlined in Sunday's text messages sent to every mobile phone user, “Wear face masks when you go out and wash your hands regularly with soap or sanitizer. Enrich your diet with nutrients and exercise more to improve your health. Every citizen is a soldier on the disease prevention battlefront."
For over a week now, the Vietnamese government has requested that people wear masks in crowded places such as airports, supermarkets, and bus stations.
Of course, if you’ve been outside in Vietnam since then, you’ve probably noticed that plenty of people are not listening.
It’s hard to determine just why this is, but one can safely assume it’s a mix of many things: a lack of concern about the current pandemic, no knowledge of the request, cultural differences, conflicting information on their effectiveness, lack of access to one, etc.
Admittedly, despite having visited Vietnam many times over the last three years or so, it’s only since the early part of 2019 that I’ve found myself wearing a mask regularly when outside.
As someone who grew up in Eastern Canada, I never considered wearing one, and it wasn’t until I began to travel in Asia that I was regularly exposed to others wearing them.
While working in South Korea years ago, the sight of them became commonplace, but I still never chose to wear one myself.
That all changed last year when I was faced with spending roughly three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand during burning season, when local farmers burn their fields to prepare their land for the following year.
For most of that time, I wore a mask to try and limit my exposure to the air that was regularly classified as hazardous.
Upon leaving there for relatively cleaner air in Ho Chi Minh City, I chose to still wear a mask as I often found the pollution affected my health more than before.
So, even before the Vietnamese government requested that we do so, I was regularly wearing a mask whenever I ventured outside.
Of course, once the rate of COVID-19 infections began to rise outside of China, I started to wear a mask for reasons other than just my own health.
|The author is seen wearing a face mask outside a home in Thao Dien Ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City in this supplied photo.|
Despite the fact that numerous organizations state that the mask itself may not help me to avoid infection as much as hand washing and other personal hygiene habits, I choose to wear one because I can’t know for sure that I’m not already infected.
Since COVID-19 is infectious even without showing symptoms, I could be carrying it without knowing, and wearing a mask can help limit the chances that I infect someone else.
Although I’m likely to survive being infected, the thought of passing the disease onto someone who may die is something I’m willing to prevent as much as possible.
Judging from feedback on Tuoi Tre News’ Facebook page, it seems I’m not the only one.
For Anja Latacz, a German expat in Hanoi, a mask is more than just a great way to limit the chances of infecting other people.
“I also do it out of respect to Vietnamese society,” she says. “Also, I want to make sure local people do not get scared.”
For other foreigners, including Marcia Ring, an American teacher in Vung Tau City, some 80 kilometers southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, it took some helpful insight from Vietnamese people before she realized that wearing one wasn’t necessarily about protecting herself.
“Western health officials have told us they are ineffective, so I thought they were useless,” she admits.
“Now, I understand that it’s about being respectful to our hosts and not spreading it to others, and I would wear one even without the mandate.”
Sadly, there are still plenty of people who don’t share similar views, but Marcia found that with at least some folks, a gentle reminder can go a long way.
Recently, while in a Lotte Mart, she reminded an older American man to wear his, and he quickly put it on and apologized for forgetting.
Although this sort of reaction is not likely to happen with everyone, especially if there’s a language barrier, it’s important that we all do what we can to help Vietnam continue to maintain its relative safety against the pandemic.
For months now, the country has had great success with its efforts, reporting 134 cases in total, despite so many other countries struggling and the global number of cases surpassing 420,000 as of Wednesday.
Most importantly, thanks to the efforts of the government, health care workers, and those of us who are staying updated and following the necessary regulations, the country has reported no deaths while over 18,800 have sadly passed in the rest of the world.
Now, with the border closed to almost everyone outside, just how successful Vietnam continues to be will depend on how we all act inside it.
Together, we can bring an end to all of this. Divided, we just might fall.