I think everyone will agree with me when I say that hysteria about the Corona Virus has exploded in the last couple of days. Before, it was a minor worry located in a different part of the world. I know I am travelling in South East Asia, but China is China, right?
When I was in the Philippines over a month ago, the locals told me that normally the tourist spots are way more crowded with Chinese tourists. We would joke that if a backpacker had flown out via Hong Kong then they had the Corona Virus.
But it seems that Europe has become the new threat with the World Health Organisation announcing in their March 16th report that the total number of cases and deaths outside China has overtaken the total number of cases in China. Italy has gone into lock down. President Trump has declared a national emergency and Boris Johnson has told the UK to stop all non-essential travel and contact with other people.
I am now in Vietnam and only made it in by the skin of my teeth. They were ceasing visas on arrival to foreigners from 15th March at 12pm. I arrived in Hanoi on 15th March at 8am.
I have been in Hanoi before, just three months ago and I notice immediately that there are less people in the streets. Last time I was here the streets were a throng of traffic, people, noise and street sellers. Where is everyone? The hotel I have checked into is basically empty.
Walking down a street in Hanoi, many stores have signs saying they are closed. There are also some signs saying “No foreigners”. I tried to take a photo but the woman shouted “NO photos!”
Before, a fair amount of people in Hanoi wore a face mask – probably against the pollution, but now everyone here is wearing a face mask. The border security checking my passport asks me to take a step back so that he is protected from me by the glass barrier. People serving me in coffee shops seem to observe me with alarm when they see I’m not wearing a mask. I have been reading for weeks that face masks are ineffective against the Corona Virus and that it is largely for peace of mind. But still, herd mentality prevails and I follow suit, picking up a free face mask at a street food restaurant, lest I become a social pariah.
I’m not going to lie when I say it is the most uncomfortable thing to wear. It makes my face sweaty and if I’m wearing glasses it makes my glasses not sit right and steam up. There is hand sanitiser in lots of shops and I take advantage as I am running low. I suddenly feel conscious of how much I am touching my face, mouth, eyes and nose. I realise I am suddenly worried that I am going to get Corona Virus, whereas before I was not so worried by it.
My friends travelling in Cambodia say they have met five people who have had Corona Virus, which is five more than I have met.
Personally, I have not made up my mind yet on what I am going to do. Vietnam is shutting down tourist sites south of Hanoi that I had intended to visit, such as Halong Bay and Ninh Binh. My friend has just had to leave the Gili Islands in Indonesia, where I had intended to visit. Siargao island in the Philippines (where I just came from) has just closed for one month – so I was lucky to leave when I did as my visa expired the day they closed. It appears to me that I may be safer out here in Asia than going back to Europe at the moment, but at the same time I am limited on where I can go in Asia.
If anyone is currently travelling South East Asia during Corona Virus then leave me a comment with your opinion and what your plans are. I would love to know as it may help me!
Current advice to protect from Corona Virus
- Wash your hands frequently – for at least 20-30 seconds – after you have sneezed, blown your nose or coughed, after visiting public places, after touching places outside of your home including handling money, before and after eating and before and after caring for a sick person. Check out Unicef advice on washing hands here
- Social distancing – maintain 1m or 3ft of distance between yourself and anyone coughing or sneezing as you may breathe in the air droplets they produce
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth – probably the most difficult one for me. Especially take extra care to wash your hands before putting in contact lenses
- Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze with a tissue or your elbow