By Yen Duong

HO CHI MINH CITY (Reuters) – For nearly three decades, Quach My Linh has sold hats at Ba Chieu market in Vietnam’s bustling Ho Chi Minh City.

But following a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the 42-year-old vendor has turned to making plastic face shields for frontline medical workers instead.

“I was once a patient myself and I feel like my family owes doctors a lot”, said Linh, who received hospital treatment a few years ago for a blood-related illness.

“I want to make these shields to keep them healthy. If they are healthy, then they can protect us”.

Last week, Vietnam began a 15-day social distancing campaign to slow the spread of the virus that has seen most non-essential businesses shut, including Linh’s stall.

There have been 241 reported cases of the coronavirus in Vietnam and no reported deaths, according to the health ministry. Aggressive contact tracing and a mass quarantine programme have helped keep that tally low.

When the lockdown began, Linh assembled a group of family members, friends and fellow vendors to start making the face shields. They can be worn in addition to face masks to better protect medical workers from the tiny virus-carrying droplets released by infected patients.

In just a few days, Linh and her gang of volunteers made almost 1,000 face shields, she said, and distributed them to at least three nearby hospitals.

Linh said she had drawn on her experience as a hat vendor to line the shields with comfortable padding.

She watched media reports of doctors in the United States and consulted a friend who works as a nurse there to perfect the design, she said.

The finishing touch? A sticker, with an important message to Vietnam’s medical workers: “Fight Covid-19 disease”.

“Keep believing, because we are always with you”.

(This story is refiled to correct dateline)

(Reporting by Yen Duong; Editing by James Pearson and Kim Coghill)