Educational authorities in Vietnam closed schools this week in more than 50 provinces and cities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) that has infected 17,000 people and killed more than 360 in neighboring China.
The move comes as the country’s eighth confirmed case was reported Monday, a worker from Vinh Phuc province, who is now under quarantine in a Hanoi hospital.
The education ministry announced the school closings Monday, and for most of the country, schools will be closed until Friday, except in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces and Hai Duong city, where school will resume on Feb. 12.
Parents of school-aged children said they support the ministry’s decision.
Cong Vinh, a father from Vung Tau, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he is ready to let his children stay home until the epidemic passes.
But he acknowledged that the decision is difficult for other parents as they were unable to plan for their children to stay home for a week while they have to go to work.
Others said the move was meaningless, because it forces parents to bring their young children to their workplaces.
Kim Tien, a resident of Ho Chi Minh City, agreed with closing all the schools, but told RFA the government should have made the decision earlier for the benefit of all the students and their parents.
Tran Thi Ai Lien, a lecturer, told RFA that schools should offer online studies during their weeklong hiatus. She suggested that teachers record their lectures and make them available to students online.
Tran also added that parents should ensure their children know the best ways to prevent the spread of nCoV, because it would greatly reduce the levels of fear associated with the epidemic, which could negatively impact their psychology.
Coinciding with the education ministry’s decision, the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism asked local governments nationwide to suspend upcoming festivals.
According to state media, among the 236 potential nCoV cases in Vietnam, 163 were confirmed negative Monday, with the remaining 73 still under close watch.
Cambodia feels loss of tourists
Meanwhile in Cambodia, a drop in Chinese tourists is causing hotels, guesthouses and other businesses to lay off employees or even temporarily shut down.
Residents of popular tourist locales like Siem Reap and Angkor Wat say that the tourism business there is now the worst it has ever been.
“Following the outbreak of Coronavirus, Chinese tourists don't come to Siem Reap anymore. We’ve lost too many Chinese visitors,” said Khieu Thy, president of the Angkor Tour Guide Association in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service.
“The Chinese government has been banning tourist travel, not letting them go overseas to keep the virus from spreading,” he said.
Ang Charles, a hotel employee in Siem Reap told RFA, “Most hotels in Siem Reap are giving employees a week off with no salary.”
According to Ang, many Chinese tourists have canceled bookings and dozens of rooms which otherwise would be booked in his hotel are left empty.
“These last two years have been the worst, and the virus is making it even worse than that,” he added.
According to Vin Phearum, who drives tourists in an auto-rickshaw for a living, incomes are down for all sectors catering to tourists.
“Tourism is almost quiet. Sellers in various temple areas are closing their businesses because there are no visitors,” said Vin.
Sales figures for tickets to the Ankor Wat archaeological site were down 18% this month compared to the first month of last year.
RFA was unable to reach the Ministry of Tourism for comment.
San Chey, president of the Cambodian Social Accountability Coalition (ANSA), said that although a drop in tourism has negative effects for the country, it is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading there.
“If Cambodians become infected, it would be even worse news for those in the tourism sector,” he said, adding that tourists would likely avoid Cambodia if the virus spread there.
According to a report from the Ministry of Tourism published Feb. 1, Chinese accounted for two-thirds of Cambodia’s three million foreign tourists in 2019.
Of 11 potential coronavirus cases in Laos, nine have been confirmed as negative.
According to the director of the National Lab Center the remaining two are “Chinese who have had contact with people from Wuhan. So far their tests have not resulted in a conclusive [diagnosis.]”
Meanwhile the Chinese consulate in Luang Prabang province notified Lao authorities that a Chinese national who tested positive for coronavirus had traveled to several cities in Laos late last month.
As of Monday there were more than 17,000 confirmed cases in China with a total of 362 deaths there.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese and Khmer Services. Translated by Huy Le and Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Eugene Whong.