In the next few days, the COVID-19 situation in China aggravated. Sporadic cases also began appearing elsewhere, mostly in countries neighbouring China. This prompted me, although reluctantly, to start following the issue online. The main reason for this was that, after Laos, my next destination was Vietnam, which shares a long, porous border with China. The scientific community was scrambling to research the new virus and gain as much knowledge about it as quickly as possible. China was erecting hospitals in Wuhan overnight, to keep up with the inflow of patients. It became evident that COVID-19, as the new virus was named, was incredibly virulent and had an immense potential to spread.
I remember the first time I bought myself a face mask: it was on February 3rd, on the day of my departure from Luang Prabang to Vietnam. It was a warm, pleasant day. My flight was in the evening, so I was relishing the last afternoon in cozy Luang Prabang. I bought a black face mask of a questionable degree of quality (it was all they had) at a local "pharmacy" - a shop selling medicine and food products. I remember chatting with a young enthusiastic Thai couple whom I7ve met in front of the pharmacy. They have just purchased real estate in Luang Prabang and they were remodeling the house to become a spa and massage center. In retrospect, their timing was really bad, but of course, they could not know that at the moment.
I've put on the mask once I boarded the airplane. After a short flight, we arrived in Hanoi. Security measures were already in place. Thermal scanning of all incoming passengers; airport staff was wearing face masks and gloves; there were special customs lines for Chinese nationals and they had to fill out health declaration forms. The wait for the obtainment of the visa stamp was long. Everyone was a bit more tense than usual. Passengers were quiet, just pacing around while waiting for their name to appear on the screen, notifying that their passport has been stamped and the visa procedures completed. About half of us wore masks. By then, Vietnam has had a few cases of COVID-19, but all of them were people coming from the Wuhan area. However, people began to suspect (not yet realize) how infectious it is and how eerily quickly it can spread.