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As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic continues in China and its immediate neighbors, an estimated 5,000 workers at a stuffed-animal manufacturer in Vietnam over the weekend staged a rare strike for three days on concerns that several of their Chinese coworkers were not being properly quarantined.

Vietnamese workers at the JY Ha Nam Company in Ha Nam province said that the five or six manufacturing specialists who returned to Vietnam from China last week, were not required to be quarantined for 14 days as mandated by the Vietnamese health ministry.

The strike ended Tuesday when the company’s leader met with the workers to confirm that the specialists would be quarantined for the mandated 14-day period. Workers said they would return to work Wednesday.

The specialists were not the first group of Chinese workers to return to work at the Ha Nam province firm. Another group of Chinese returned to Vietnam at the end of January and were required to go through the quarantine.

“The first group of Chinese workers who returned to Vietnam on the sixth day of the [first] lunar month [Jan. 30], are in stable condition now, but we want the ones who have returned over the past few days to also be quarantined,” a Vietnamese worker who requested anonymity told RFA’s Vietnamese Service prior to the strike being resolved.

“[The Chinese workers] should not have [physical contact] with Vietnamese workers,” the source said.

An official of the local government denied that a strike was occurring. Nguyen Van Khanh, of Ha Nam’s Thanh Liem district said that many of the workers were simply banding together to inquire if the specialists would be allowed to work without being quarantined.

But several Vietnamese workers pointed out that the previous group of returning Chinese workers were already working, so such an inquiry would make little sense.

The company began firing striking workers Saturday, the first day of the strike, but the workers refused to end the strike until their demands were met on Tuesday.

The workers previously went on strike when a Chinese technician at the company had displayed symptoms of COVID-19 infection on Jan. 31. This was resolved when the technician was placed in quarantine and eventually tested negative.

Residents say Son Loi quarantine inconvenient, but necessary

Residents of the first mass coronavirus quarantine outside of China told RFA that despite being inconvenienced by the closure of their commune, they are in high spirits.

Authorities closed off Son Loi commune, home to 10,000 in Vinh Phuc province last week, as half of Vietnam’s 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases reside there.

“The local authorities have only blocked the quarantined areas. Everywhere else is operating as normal and the authorities don’t interfere with each family or each resident,” said Duong Cong Hoang, a resident of Son Loi on Monday.

Duong told RFA that the eight people infected with the virus have been isolated within the commune to protect everyone else there.

“Residents have a duty to quarantine themselves. The ones who tested positive for COVID-19 were sent to the quarantine area for further treatment,” said Duong.

He added that residents are in high spirits and are calmly meeting the challenge of defending against the virus.

Nguyen Van Sung, who lives in the quarantine area told RFA, “Some residents are a bit scared of COVID-19, but the local authorities are taking care of everything, so we are fine.”

Although authorities have set up 24-hour roadblocks restricting movement into and out of Son Loi, supplies are still making their way in.

A resident of Hanoi traveled into the commune to distribute face masks. He was allowed to stand just in front of the roadblock to give the masks to local residents.

“The quarantined areas are controlled by police, doctors, and local leaders. The police won’t allow us to take photos, but they had no problems with us giving the face masks to people,” the Hanoi resident told RFA.

Duong confirmed that residents of Son Loi are not allowed outside the commune, but the government is providing stipends of 40,000 dong per day (U.S. $1.72) to Son Loi residents and 60,000 per day ($2.58) to those in quarantine.

Authorities are also supplying bottles of antiseptic to residents daily, and charitable organizations enter the commune to distribute food and other supplies.

The quarantine in Son Loi is scheduled to end on March 3.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong