Adapting to life under Covid-19 on Vietnam-China freight trains

With Vietnam-China freight trains continuing operations while passenger trains are suspended over the Covid-19 outbreak, railway staff function under new standard operating procedures.

A train returns to Lao Cai station from China in Vietnam’s far north on Saturday. As the epidemic, Covid-19, has yet to be contained in China, all passenger services to the country have been suspended to prevent the spread of the infection. Freight trains are operating on two routes, Lao Cai-Kunming, and Lang Son-Nanning, though at a reduced frequency. On the Lao Cai-Kunming route, the number has been reduced from eight trains a day to just two.

The station guard and other staff wear medical face masks as a train returns to Lao Cai Station Saturday in the northern province of Lao Cai from China on Saturday. 

As the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic rages and is yet to be brought under control, all passenger trains between Vietnam and China have been suspended to prevent infections from spreading, but freight trains are still operating on two routes, Lao Cai-Kunming, and Lang Son-Nanning.

On the Lao Cai-Kunming route, there were eight daily trains going to and from on a six-kilometer section, but these days, there are just two.

As a train nears the Vietnam border from the Chinese side, Tran Van Huong of the Lao Cai International Border checkpoint hops on to carry out entry procedures. His task is to inspect the ID of those on the train to make sure no one is entering Vietnam illegally.

As the train is about to enter Vietnamese territory, Tran Van Huong, a checkpoint staff at the Lao Cai Internatinal Border Gate hops on for an inspection, dressed in protective gear including a coat, face mask and gloves.

He will inspect the IDs of those on the train as well as of the railway staff to make sure there is no one enters Vietnam illegally. 

Huong is in charge of the train until it arrives at Lao Cai Station. There are only four employees on the train.

Huong (right) is in charge on the train until it arrives at the Lao Cai Station. He is one of four staff working on the train, and all of them wear masks all the time.

The train returns to Vietnam with 23 cars carrying 837 tons of goods. It had earlier left for China with sulfur and iron ore. At Lao Cai Station, three tracks farthest from the station have been earmarked for cargo trains.

A train returns to Vietnam with 23 cars carrying 837 tons of goods and commodities, including fertilizers. It had left Vietnam taking sulfur and iron ore to China.

On February 2, the Vietnamese government had suspended all trains between Vietnam and China, but a week later, allowed cargo trains to resume, asking the Vietnam Railway Authority and the Vietnam Railways Corporation to coordinate with border authorities and carry out surveillance and epidemic prevention measures on trains crossing the border.

At the Lao Cai station, three railway tracks are being used by cargo trains.

Once a train arrives, medical personnel come to spray disinfectants all over it.

As the train comes to a complete stop, a sanitation staff sprays it with disinfection all over.

The four employees leave the train. They are aged between 28 and 53, and volunteered to work aboard, fully aware of the outbreak in China. The four will work for two weeks before they are quarantined for 14 days and another group of four will replace them.

The four people manning the train get off wearing masks. Aged 28-53, they have volunteered to take the train to China and back, well aware of the Covid-19 outbreak in China.

The four will work continuously for two weeks before they are quarantined for 14 days and another group of four will replace them.

The first thing they do after returning to Vietnam is to clean their hands with soap before going to an isolated room for a health check.

The first step on returning to Vietnam is for the staff to clean their hands thoroughly with soap before moving to an isolated room for health check.

A railway worker checks the temperature of one of the four employees who arrived on the train. All papers related to import and export of goods are put into a sterile drying cabinet to be disinfected before they are sent to the customs office.

A railway medical staff checks the body temperature of one of the four people on the train.

The four workers on the train go to a quarantine zone at the back of the station. They stay in two apartments of 30 square meters each. During the two weeks they work, they are not allowed to go anywhere outside the quarantine zone.

All import-export paperwork is placed in a sterilized dry cabinet to disinfection before they are sent to the customs office.

The four workers on the train go to a quarantine zone at the back of the station. They stay in two apartments of 30 square meters each. During the two weeks they work, they are not allowed to go anywhere outside the quarantine zone.

The four train staff proceed to a quarantined zone at the back of the station. They stay in two apartments measuring 30 square meters each. They are not allowed to go anywhere outside the quarantined zone.

Khong Minh, 28, an assitant driver, said: The epidemic has scared people away. It is kind of scary but it’s our job. Once the epidemic is contained, we can go home.The outbreak, which began in Wuhan City last December, has spread to 27 countries and territories. Vietnam has so far recorded 16 cases, of whom seven have so far been discharged from hospitals. As of Sunday morning, the death toll had climbed to 1,669, including four outside China.

“The epidemic has scared people away but we just keep going. It’s a bit scary, but it’s our job so we have no choice. Once the epidemic is gone, we can go home,” said Khong Minh, 28, an assitant locomotive driver.

After the deadly novel coronavirus broke out in China’s Wuhan City, Hubei Province, last December, Covid-19 has spread to 27 other countries and territories. Vietnam has so far recorded 16 infection cases, and seven have been discharged from hospitals.

As of Sunday morning, the death toll had climbed to 1,669, four of them outside China.

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