As Covid infections spike, a Vietnamese couple left Long An province on a motorbike along with their pack of pet dogs.
They were later found to be positive for Covid-19. From their hospital beds, they learned that authorities had killed 12 of their pets due to concerns that the animals could spread the virus.
“My wife and I couldn’t sleep because we were crying so much,” Pham Minh Hung, a 49-year-old bricklayer, told the BBC.
“I didn’t want to believe it was true… I was powerless to protect my children “He was referring to his dogs, he said.
Their storey, which was documented on the social media app TikTok, sparked a massive backlash in Vietnam, with a petition calling for an end to the practise garnering more than 150,000 signatures.
The most recent Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam has been the most severe since the pandemic’s inception.
Many migrant workers have been unable to earn a living as a result of the recent lockdown, prompting at least a million to flee major cities.
Among them were Pham Minh Hung, 35, and Nguyen Thi Chi Em, 35.
On October 8, they set out on a 280-kilometer (173-mile) journey with their dogs and three relatives, who also brought three dogs and one cat.
The couple travelled to Khanh Hung, Ca Mau province, the hometown of a relative, because Covid cases are lower there.
Many witnesses shared videos of the couple’s journey on social media, showing them on their motorcycle with their dogs and belongings piled on top. Many social media users congratulated the couple and wished them a safe journey.
When the couple used raincoats to cover their dogs in the pouring rain, some said their hearts melted a little. Some even brought them water and food.
The couple began their journey with 15 dogs, but as their journey progressed, they gave two dogs to a volunteer after entering Ca Mau province, and another died. The rest carried on.
However, after arriving in Khanh Hung, the couple and their three relatives tested positive for Covid. Anyone travelling across provinces is required to undergo testing. They were taken to a hospital for treatment, while the animals were kept at a quarantine facility.
Local authorities, however, killed their 12 dogs and the pets of their relatives without informing them, according to state media. The article was later taken down.
It is unknown how the animals were slaughtered. The official police newspaper published an image of them being burned.
“First and foremost, disease control must be prioritised, and the decision to kill the animals immediately was a necessary preventive measure,” local official Tran Tan Cong said at a press conference on Sunday.
The decision sparked outrage online, with many calling it “cruel” and “heartbreaking.”
Hong Anh, a member of the global animal welfare organisation Four Paws, called it “barbaric” and said she would petition the organisation.
According to Nguyen Hong Vu, a staff scientist at the City of Hope National Medical Centre in the United States, the killings were “unethical” and “ridiculous” because there are no guidelines stating that pets must be killed if their owners are infected.
“There is no scientific evidence that dogs or cats can act as a conduit for Covid transmission to humans. People with Covid, on the other hand, can occasionally infect them “Dr. Nguyen stated.
A study in Texas surveyed 76 dogs and cats from 39 households with Covid patients, and found three cats and one dog were infected. The animals were asymptomatic, or only displayed mild symptoms. They all rapidly recovered.
“There are multiple ways to make it right in this situation, such as quarantining them in a cage; contacting the owners’ relatives or engaging a social organisation to take care of them until the owners recover,” Dr Nguyen said.
At the start of the pandemic, Vietnam was lauded as a virus success, earning praise from the World Health Organization (WHO) for its quick response and widespread contact-tracing. The Delta variant, on the other hand, has brought the country to its knees.
It has reported over 840,000 cases and over 20,000 deaths. The vast majority of cases were discovered during the most recent wave.
Vietnam has been aggressive in its virus control efforts, despite Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s statement last month that a plan to “live with the virus” should be developed.
Many people have been charged and convicted of spreading the virus, with some serving five-year prison sentences.
A video of several police officers breaking into a flat in southern Binh Duong Province went viral last month. As her young son cried, they dragged out a woman suspected of having been exposed to Covid for a test. It sparked a massive public outcry.
According to observer Le Anh, the authorities’ decision to cull the pets was not surprising.
“The Vietnamese government has made the fight against the coronavirus a top priority. ‘Fighting this pandemic is like fighting the enemy,’ says one. It denotes that the country is at war. During a war, rational and humane behaviour cannot be expected.”
The most difficult thing for Mr Pham was learning that his beloved animals had been slaughtered by others.
He is adamant about holding authorities accountable.
“I’ve been raising my children for about six years, and I definitely want justice for my children,” he said from the hospital.