Two hemispheres of COVID-19: Vietnam and Canada

We are living in an unprecedented time when global public health is at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has made its way around the globe and impacted nearly all aspects of our lives. I’ve witnessed how my friends and family’s lives have been affected by the pandemic in so many ways.

Since the outbreak can spread fast and show symptoms very late, it is difficult to know who has been afflicted with the disease. Vietnam, where I am from, took the proactive stance and ordered a quarantine, stopping most person-to person contact. The order enforced social distancing and the use of medical face masks. Thanks to early action and being proactive in protecting the public’s health, Vietnam (population 95 million) has only 325 cases, with 267 recovered cases.

My family in Vietnam has been adhering to social distancing orders, which resulted in some interesting lifestyle changes. My sister has been learning online since February when COVID-19 peaked. Her learning journey has not changed drastically, but she misses her classmates and social events at school.

Everyone is presumed to have purchased medical masks and hand sanitizer. However, having enough supplies for a dense population in Hanoi isn’t always feasible. There is news as well as personal accounts that not everyone can get their hands on supplies when they need them since they sell out very quickly. On top of that, some medical supplier stores started charging more than the market price for masks and hand sanitizer, which is incredibly unethical and exploitative. In times of health crisis and financial hardships, the thing that people need most is sympathy and support, not exploitation and manipulation. It is the peer support and cooperation that unites us as a modern society. Hardship brings nothing but destabilization and segregation for our society.

Fortunately, Vietnam’s government started an investigation into the matter. Fast forward to May, 2020, and supplies have been replenished and most people can purchase medical masks to prepare for their trips into the outside world.

Meanwhile, my life in Canada, away from the other half of the world, has been stable with a touch of fear of racism. Canada started to quarantine a bit later than Vietnam, around late March. But it is a good measure, nonetheless. The strangest predicament I’ve seen so far is seeing toilet paper sold out. The panic buying during the pandemic onset came in a strong wave that cleaned out almost all toilet paper and cleaning supply stocks. The news reported that some people were amassing supplies to sell at inflated prices. Plus, harassment of people wearing masks (mostly people of Asian descent) became a problem. It’s incredibly strange why one would be harassed for taking measures to protect themself. We should emphasize the benefits of wearing a mask here in Canada; this is something that is already prevalent in Vietnam.

The racist tide against the Asian community has been pushed higher than ever. I am anxious when reading news about increasing hate crimes against anyone. The virus doesn’t discriminate against races, which the outbreak in Italy has already proven. Any place with frequent travellers or high population density can be a hotspot for infection.

Furthermore, the illogical accusation of Asians being responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak is incredibly harmful to our society. It generalizes all Asian descendants, who bear complex heritage backgrounds. Many First Nations and Asian-Canadians were harassed and assaulted just because of their heritage, even though they have no ties to any infection hotspots. We have seen how racism can hurt our society and it certainly doesn’t advance the unification of all Canadians. It must be stopped and called out when witnessed.

Another hurdle during the pandemic is the loss of jobs and our economy. New graduates and current job seekers are struggling to find a job with income to support themselves in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. As a university graduate myself, I sense the panic to find a job that pays a living wage approaching. Opportunities still exist, but the competition has been pushed to extremes. One job I applied to gathered over one thousand applicants, and the position was only for one person. In times of turbulence, flexibility is needed to make ends meet. I suggest everyone look at essential services such as retail, healthcare, etc. and offer a helping hand if and when needed.

I am thankful that the situation is now deescalated thanks to everyone’s cooperation with social distancing measures. The government of British Columbia kick-started the second phase of reopening the economy in late May. Many businesses are open for service, provided that important social distancing rules are in place. Everything will not be restored to the pre-COVID-19 time, but I am glad that we are on the road to recovery.