Travel in the time of the coronavirus

February 29, 2020 - 08:57

However, everything has a price, and the price for such great travel deals is the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives worldwide.


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

By Lương Thu Hương

Cheap flights, hotels and services, as well as empty destinations and an extended school break for children seem like all the right factors for a great holiday.

However, everything has a price, and the price for such great travel deals is the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives worldwide.

Despite the increasing numbers of infections and deaths being impossible to miss on TV and social networks, many don't want to miss the opportunity for a cheap holiday to destinations assumed to be unaffected by the virus.

“Have you ever imagined a return flight from Hà Nội – HCM City costs just more than VNĐ2 million (US$86) or from Hà Nội – Đà Nẵng is as cheap as about VNĐ1.5 million ($65)?” says office worker Lê Thanh Huyền in Hà Nội.

“All the services are cheap. Just log on to websites specialised in accommodation like Agoda or Booking, special discounts are on offer, from 30 to 50 per cent. Restaurants are also offering reasonable prices to attract customers.

“But the thing I like most is that the tourist attractions which used to be packed with tourists now seem so quiet and peaceful.”

After considering all factors, including the epidemic, Huyền and her family decided to have a three-day holiday to Quy Nhơn in the central province of Bình Định.

“To be honest, I didn't see anything to be afraid of. Instead, we enjoyed our trip with a lot of sunshine, empty beaches and delicious cheap seafood,” she recalls.

People exercising more caution about the virus might choose a one-day holiday to destinations nearby using their personal vehicles.

“My children started to get bored after three weeks staying at home,” says a mother of two, Nguyễn Thùy Dương from Hà Nội.

“We chose a safer way for a holiday that does not demand much travelling to public places like airports or train stations. It took us about 30 minutes to drive to Ecopark located 15km from central Hà Nội.

“I think there is little chance that we could be infected because we did not contact many people in the open space and fresh atmosphere of the park. My children had the opportunity to freely play and run around, which they could not do if locked in our apartment,” Dương says.

Việt Nam’s tourism sector has been severely affected by the epidemic.

In the past two months, the room occupancy rate at hotels and resorts nationwide has fallen 20-50 per cent compared with the same period last year while the number of international tourists is forecast to drop 60 per cent in March.

To cope with the problems, the Việt Nam Tourism Association recently established an alliance of stakeholders, experts and enterprises to develop the national tourism industry.

Many enterprises have agreed to collaborate with the alliance to launch a tourism campaign. For example, many hotels have offered discounts from 20 to 50 per cent and some airlines have agreed to slash ticket prices by 20 to 30 per cent.

“In previous epidemic outbreaks such as SARS and H5N1, the co-operation between ministries and related associations to reduce prices and taxes effectively revived tourism. I believe that this time is similar – the fear will fade away when people gradually realise that it is not too formidable and especially that Việt Nam has effectively controlled the epidemic,” says Trần Thế Dũng, vice director of Thế Hệ Trẻ Travel Limited Company in an interview with Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper.

However, not all people are tempted by cheap flights or tourism services. The issue of whether we should take the chance to travel during this sensitive time has sparked a heated debate online.

“It is reasonable to travel at this time – long school closures, cheap air tickets, cheap hotels, cheap food, few tourists,” writes Facebook user Khải Trần, “but I don’t want this vacation to be my last, do you understand?”

Another user, Hán Phương Nga, argues that the movement between different areas is a factor impacting epidemic control because it is hard to determine if someone is incubating the virus.

"Everyone one should try a little bit for the sake of themselves and the whole community,” she adds.

“I cannot understand why people still take their children on vacation during this epidemic period, while schooling has been delayed and people have been advised against travelling to avoid gatherings for proper control of COVID-19 and to soon resume normal activities,” writes netizen Thúy Phương.

According to Dr William Brian McNaull, Medical Director of Family Medical Practice Hanoi, people should keep all travel to a minimum.

“With the spread of the disease outside of China especially into (South) Korea, I think it's not wise to travel either within Việt Nam by plane or abroad especially to other East Asian and other Southeast Asian countries.

"Going to areas within Việt Nam that have been virus free is reasonable. But the overarching idea is not to travel at all and stay away from large groups of people.

"Việt Nam has done a very good job keeping the disease from spreading within the country because of diligent controls and quarantine. We all need to work together to contain this disease and one of the best ways is to stay at home and not travel extensively.”

To tourists who have already planned trips, the doctor highly recommended wearing masks and washing hands frequently especially after contacting other people.

”If you develop a fever and/or respiratory symptoms and especially if you come from China and Korea, go immediately to one of the Ministry of Health’s designated hospitals in Việt Nam for testing and possible quarantine,” he says. VNS