Border guards fight COVID-19 enemy
Hanoi (VNA) – Hai Son commune in the northeastern border province of Quang Ninh is a low-lying area with about 20 days of rains a month. Fighting COVID-19 pandemic, day and night, soldiers of Po Hen border post patrol along a 3km stretch of Ka Long border river, some places only ankle-deep where anyone can pass easily. Their uniforms are wet almost every day.
Torrential rain and the strong wind that blow their tent away make their nights harder. There are days that heavy rain taps to their tent and makes it totally wet inside. Instant noodles have are frequent meals of the soldiers.
Urgent military order on second day of Lunar New Year
Located in the remotest area on the Vietnam-China border in Quang Ninh, the Po Hen border post in Hai Son commune of Mong Cai city manages 12.006 km of the border line with 11 key markers.
Hai Son is home to over 1,500 people, 86 percent of whom are from Dao and San Chi ethnic minority groups. Locals live in difficult conditions. Some remote villages are 16km far from downtown with only few households.
Looking to the borderline, Lt. Col. Nguyen Thanh Le, head of the Po Hen border post, said that in the recent three months since the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, the life of locals has greatly suffered.
Annual river cleaning programmes, and meetings to update regulations between Vietnam and China and deal with problems reported to the post through hotlines have been suspended.
Recalling the night before the Lunar New Year (Tet)’s eve, Le said that on the other side of the border, the sound from firework performance made the Tet atmosphere fill the area. But he felt so worried inside.
Updates on complicated developments of COVID-19 in China were sent continuously from the Border Guard High Command, along with a series of dispatch asking for the strengthening of monitoring and patrolling of the border to prevent illegal immigration, ensuring border security and keep the pandemic from entering Vietnam.
The Po Hen border post is among the most significant areas of Mong Cai with seven roads to China.
The dry Ka Long River and a lack of a firm fence in the Vietnam-China border are big “loopholes” that make it more difficult to control people crossing the border.
Designing the fastest and most effective defense plan to prevent the pandemic from entering Vietnam through the roads is tough. The leader of the border post always thinks of how to make locals understand the situation and cooperate with authorities.
At that time, the border post had 45 soldiers, 13 of them had returned home for Tet holiday.
In the night of the first day of Lunar New Year, recognising the urgent situation, Le asked key leaders of the post – Major Vu Van Luong and Political Commissar Mai Van The – to return to the post on the next day to seek a plan against the COVID-19 “enemy”.
On the second day of the Lunar New Year, they decided to install checkpoints along the Ka Long River which were 500m away from each other. On the fourth Lunar New Year’s day, all the soldiers of the post were available before their schedule to perform border protection activities.
Making beds out of trees
Ka Long River has dry sections and deep sections, forcing the soldiers to walk and use the boat at the same time.
On the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, a group of soldiers with speakers drove motorbikes through all residential areas to popularise measures to prevent the virus as well as illegal immigration. Another group installed tents along the river and the border. The tents were just large enough for a bed. In some tents, the soldiers used small trees to make temporary beds.
There were 12 tents in total. The conditions were hard at first. The soldiers’ firewood was just enough to keep warm and boil water to make instant noodles. At that time, 95 percent of all soldiers of the post were divided to shifts to ensure round-the-clock duty.
The tents were just big enough for a bed. In some tents, the soldiers used small trees to make temporary beds.
Lt. Col Le said that, since the fourth and fifth days of the Lunar New Year, the post had set up one mobile team, one provisional group and 12 checkpoints to manage the border in three rounds, thus controlling all people and vehicles passing the border in Hai Son commune.
Accomplishing mission in the frontline
Recalling the first tough days, Le said that the first difficulty is approaching locals to popularise the policies, as 86 percent of the locals are from ethnic minority groups.
After discussing with local authorities, border guards reached all villages by motorbike and used speakers to popularlise entry-exit regulations and COVID-19 preventive measures.
“We met some funny but honest questions from locals. Some local people even asked us that the African swine fever pandemic forced them to cull all of their pig herd, so what will happen if the pandemic hit humans?” said Le.
He said that after being updated, locals’ awareness was improved greatly. On the 12th day of the first lunar month, border guards of the post coordinated with local authorities to present face masks to locals and provide them with hygiene solutions.
Thanks to the unceasing efforts, no illegal immigration has happened since then. Locals also report the post if an outsider enters their village.
“Locals have become our ‘ears and eyes’, making our work more effective,” said Le.
The Po Hen border post leader stressed that if 50-60 people entered Vietnam illegally through border roads, a great risk of COVID-19 pandemic invasion will threat the nation.
But if the border guard force completes their mission, the illegal immigrants will have to cross the official border gates and receive health supervision, thus reducing the risk, he said.
In every 500m, there is a group of 2-3 soldiers with five watchdogs at night, ensuring that any illegal entry will be discovered.
So far, the border guards found three illegal immigrants who were later sent to quarantine areas. No COVID-19 infection has been reported in the area covered by Po Hen border post so far, he stated.
Despite all the difficulties, border guards in the Po Hen border post are determined to accomplish their mission, protecting the border around the clock.
In a meeting to review the pandemic prevention operation in the first phase, the Military High Command of Mong Cai hailed efforts of the Po Hen border post.
Forty-one years ago, to protect the country’s northern border, 32 soldiers of Po Hen border post laid down their lives, contributing to safeguarding peace for the nation. Today, the border guards have won the fight against the COVID-19 enemy, firmly protecting the motherland./.