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In rural Vietnam, students don DIY face masks made from notebook paper amid coronavirus scare

Friday, February 07, 2020, 11:49 GMT+7
In rural Vietnam, students don DIY face masks made from notebook paper amid coronavirus scare
Students wear face masks made from notebook paper in class at Pha Danh Middle School on February 6, 2020. Photo: Lo Tham / Tuoi Tre

Medical face mask stocks at pharmacies and other business outlets in Vietnam seem to be dwindling as worried residents attempt to stockpile enough supplies to hold them over until fears of 2019-nCoV dissipate. 

Meanwhile, in the country’s remote mountainous areas, lower-income Vietnamese are seeking out alternatives to expensive protective measures. 

In the north-central province of Nghe An, in particular, a photo of students wearing DIY face masks made from notebook paper has gone viral.

The photo, showing students wearing paper masks at Pha Danh Middle School, a boarding school for underprivileged children in Nghe An’s Ky Son District, was first shared on social media on Thursday morning.

The 'masks' -- paper sheets torn from the students’ own notebooks with holes poked on either side so that they could be hung from their ears -- highlight the country’s widespread fear of 2019-nCoV and the general lack of understanding regarding the way viruses can spread.

Nguyen Que Truong, principal of Pha Danh Middle School, confirmed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that the photo was authentic and taken at the school by a teacher during class on Thursday morning.

The teacher then uploaded it on a social network, where it has since caught the attention of Vietnam’s netizens.

According to Truong, the school had requested its students wear face masks after news hit that the 2019-nCoV epidemic had made its way to Vietnam.

However, as local pharmacies had run out of face masks, the students were asked to make their own.

News of 2019-nCoV infected patients in Vietnam has fueled public fear, as well as increasing local demand for face masks, one of the measures believed by many to reduce the risk of infection, though the World Health Organization (WHO) claims there is no evidence that medical masks can actually protect people from the virus.

“They may have made their own face masks just for fun, but the fact is that they do not have face masks to protect themselves from the [2019-nCoV] infection,” Truong said.

Three hundred and twenty-three students attend Pha Danh Middle School each day, 182 of whom are boarding students from low-income ethnic minority families, according to Truong.

Students wear face masks while attending a class at a primary school in the north-central province of Nghe An on February 5, 2020. Photo: Doan Hoa / Tuoi Tre

Students wear face masks while attending a class at an elementary school in the north-central province of Nghe An on February 5, 2020. Photo: Doan Hoa / Tuoi Tre

Students in Nghe An and the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre have returned to school after the end of the Lunar New Year or Tet festival. 

Vietnam’s remaining 61 provinces and cities have allowed K-12 students to stay home since February 3 instead of returning to school in order to minimize the possibility of a widespread 2019-nCoV outbreak in the country.

However, the Nghe An People's Committee has sent an official dispatch to departments, agencies, and local authorities to allow students at all levels to be off from schools starting Friday.

Over 60 universities and colleges nationwide have also granted their students at least a week of extra vacation following the Lunar New Year holiday.

The novel coronavirus, which first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, has killed 638 people and infected more than 31,400 globally as of Friday morning, according to the South China Morning Post.

It has since spread across mainland China and to 31 other countries and regions, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements from the various health ministries around the globe.

Vietnam has so far confirmed 12 cases of the virus, including nine Vietnamese, one Vietnamese American, and two Chinese.

Among them, one Chinese and two Vietnamese have fully recovered and been discharged from the hospital as of Thursday. They were all treated for free.

The World Health Organization has declared the new coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.

The WHO said on Thursday it was too early to say that China's coronavirus outbreak was peaking, but noted that Wednesday was the first day that the overall number of new cases in China had dropped.

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