Nguyễn Thị Hoa, an operator of hotline 1022. VNA/VNS Photo
HCM CITY — During her first day on a new mission to support HCM City, Nguyễn Thị Hoa, an operator of the 1022 hotline, received a call from a citizen. On the other end of the line was a frail female voice, interspersed with the cries of a child.
The caller was a woman in her sixties living with her two-year-old grandchild. She used to own a home but then had to sell the house to care for her ill daughter, yet was still struggling. After her daughter passed away, she had been selling lottery tickets to make ends meet.
In three months of strict social distancing measures, she could not go out to work, and was starting to run out of food and money. Calling 1022 for support, she said this was the last resort.
Hotline 1022 was established as a connection between citizens affected by COVID-19 and the local government in HCM City.
Sobbing, the woman paused from time to time to regain her composure, the child’s cries could still be heard in the background. As a daughter, a mother, and someone who was also affected by COVID-19, Hoa could not help but feel for her.
She quickly collected the woman’s information and uploaded it to the system, hoping that she and the child would get the help they need as soon as possible. When the system notified Hoa that the two had received support, she could not stop crying.
Since the outbreak started in HCM City and several other provinces, Hoa and other phone operators in the business centres of Việt Nam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) have been mobilised to support HCM City. Their task now is to operate hotline 1022 extension 2, receiving and processing information to assist people affected by COVID-19.
Trần Thị Bích Thy, one of the 1022 hotline operators from the customer support line for the Southern region, said that they usually work morning or afternoon shifts, each lasting from six to eight hours. Their work pressure multiplies when there are new policies for citizens affected by the pandemic and the calls flood in.
“There are days when our shift ends but we still receive lots of calls from people in need. We sign up to work overtime when our managers call for it, and then our shift could last ten to eleven hours. Calls keep coming in one after another, and when the shift ends, I feel completely exhausted. In those peak hours, operators are met with all kinds of emotions from the other end - panic, anxiety, joy, sorrow - the pressure is immense. Each of us needs to keep a cool head, only then can we do our job well,” said Thy.
A team of mostly women, they encourage each other and push themselves to keep answering the phone, knowing that if they don't, many people will not get the support they need in time or even not at all.
With 25 years of experience working in the post office, Võ Thị Minh Nguyệt, another operator for the Southern region, could not hide her joy and pride in this work.
Nguyệt once received a call from a woman in Thanh Loc Ward, District 12, who was desperate for food. Living alone and confined to a wheelchair, she used to sell lottery tickets for a living but had not been able to go out for a month. She was anxious as there were F0 patients detected in her area, many had lost their lives to the pandemic.
She would gladly accept anything and didn’t dare to ask for more, she told Nguyệt. Touched, Nguyệt noted down her address hoping to pay her a visit when possible. Two days later, Nguyệt was surprised to hear the woman again on the line, saying she had received the support and was expressing her gratitude.
“Just imagining her sitting in a wheelchair with no money and no food, that image haunted me. I was delighted and touched to know that more or less I was able to help her.”
A mission without precedent
There were times when the hotline received 50,000 calls per day, according to Lê Vũ Hựu – Director of Customer Support Centre at VNPT – VinaPhone (VNPT Group).
On July 20, HCM City Department of Information and Communications decided to use the 1022 hotline system to assist people affected by COVID-19 in the city, and asked VNPT for support. In less than two days, the Centre had over 80 operators and 20 stations ready to receive calls 24/7 and in peak hours.
The hotline officially went into operation on July 22, receiving information of people in need of basic necessities or medical support. In peak hours, as many as 24 stations are active at the same time.
Due to the increasing demands, the Customer Support Centre has assigned 27 more operators from VNPT provincial business centres to the hotline 1022, taking the maximum active stations during peak hours to 164.
“Having to set up urgently for a mission without precedent, with the customer support line for the Southern region located in the centre of the pandemic and operators working online, it was already a huge challenge for us to set up the system and complete the training of our staff in just two days. But the people and compassion became our motivation to overcome obstacles and complete our mission,” Hựu continued.
“At this time, many people find themselves in difficult circumstances due to long lockdowns, unemployment and the risk of infection. They require food and financial support for their daily lives. With the dedicated, compassionate spirit of VNPT, we are honoured to become the link between the people and the city government so that no one is left behind.” — VNS