Editor's note: Following a request by Tuoi Tre News, American Janine Miller, an expat living in the central city of Hoi An, expressed her opinion on foreigners complying with a new regulation to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese government has repeatedly said that people wear face masks whenever outdoors.
A number of cities and provinces in Vietnam such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Binh Thuan Province have even started penalizing those not wearing face masks in public, with fines amounting up to VND300,000 (US$13).
|Tourists are seen with their face masks on while visiting the central city of Hoi An on March 17, 2020. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre|
Miller’s comments were made as her personal observations.
The following comments have been edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.
I’ve got to know about the requirement of wearing face masks in public places from the Internet, and some Facebook groups for expats. They usually have a translation of the most current news.
However, for first-time travelers, it should be required that hotel, hostel, homestay owners and tour guides educate the temporary traveler on local regulations either by providing the masks or having them available for purchase, with a public poster on how to wear them and dispose of them. (Wearing a mask around your neck isn't effective. Placing your used mask on a table for others to clean up creates another set of problems.)
I personally think wearing a mask is not unreasonable, it’s just an inconvenience. People are not in the habit of being so vigilant about their health. Wearing a mask seems like a simple task to support the community as well as protect ourselves. We are guests in this beautiful country and we need to follow the rules.
I came to the Old Town in Hoi An to hand out masks and remind them to wear, as I think people new to the country have an information and access problem.
For me this started about a month and a half ago while living in Da Nang, it was just right after Tet and they had just announcement that the coronavirus had entered Vietnam. This placed everybody in a panic. It was really hard for me to find a place to buy masks. Luckily, when the owners of my apartment came back from their vacation, they provided all the tenants with masks and hand sanitizers. They did this because they realized that everybody’s health was connected. Something as simple as touching the buttons of an elevator could impact everybody within the same building.
Recently, I moved to Hoi An. When the first case of the coronavirus was announced in Hoi An, it was the same panic. Luckily, I still had my face mask stock.
One day, while passing the marketplace and Old Town, I noticed many people were still not wearing face masks. This was when I decided to go out and hand out face masks by the market because maybe they didn’t know about the new policy or have access to them. This was also the first day when tourists were required to wear face masks so the public announcement might not have been fully understood yet. However, since this time, I have noticed a greater number of tour groups in compliance by wearing face masks.
When I asked a group of tourists who were not wearing a face mask if they knew that the government had created a new policy stating that masks should be worn in busy public spaces. Most said they did not. Some of the patrons of the Old Town gave the following responses such as “Where do I get them?”, “Where do I wear them? Is a local market in the old town regulated the same as a supermarket?”, “Why aren’t the locals wearing them?”, “Why am I wearing them if they don’t work?”, "My tour guide said I didn’t need them,” “I have one, I just forgot,” and “Who are you? Why do you care? I will ask my hotel.”
It is my understanding that it refers to places where large groups of people gather at supermarkets, airports, and train stations. But how is this effective? For example, if I have the virus, and leave the airport in my taxi to my hotel, then touch the door handle of the taxi, the fabric on the seat of the car, the pen I used at the reception desk, and the mask the maid picked up, all could be contaminated. If the people I have interacted with also wore a face mask, it would reduce the number of times they touched their face. Also washing their hands with soap and water would help neutralize the virus. People often complain that the mask isn’t an effective way of protecting yourself from the virus, but it will greatly help contain the spread.
I guess wearing a mask part-time is still flattening the curve of transmission. There is a period of time during which people may have the virus but they are asymptomatic. So anytime time I’m out of my house I wear a mask. I would hate to unintentionally transfer germs to another person. Those of us who are not just traveling through, we make connections with people and we care deeply about them. My diligence could save the life of my elderly com rice vendor or the daughter of my homestay owner.