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|With the largest repatriation campaign ever launched in peacetimes, Vietnam leaves no one behind|
On July 29, national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines’ flight VN06 departed from Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi heading to Equatorial Guinea to fly 219 Vietnamese citizens home. Although it was not the first flight to bring workers abroad home, it was the most special as more than half of the passengers had been confirmed positive for the virus.
They were working at Sendje Hydropower Plant in Equatorial Guinea’s Litoral province for the United Kingdom-based Duglas Alliance Ltd. and the three Vietnamese companies, Tan Dai Loi, CM Vietnam, and LILAMA 10. Eight months after arriving in Equatorial Guinea, they were looking forward to returning to their homeland every day since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Realising the risk of infections among the workers in Equatorial Guinea, the Vietnamese government cooperated with relevant ministries and agencies to plan a humanitarian flight and bring the workers home. After a month of preparation, 17 crew members chosen from nearly 150 volunteer pilots and attendants, together with four orderlies and doctors of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi departed to repatriate the Vietnamese citizens from Equatorial Guinea. In addition, 250 nurses and doctors were also assigned to take care of the patients upon returning from this flight.
Doan Dien, a worker of LILAMA 10, said they hugged each other and hooted with joy on the construction site when they heard that there was a repatriation flight back home. “We finally set foot on the homeland after many weeks of worry. We have expressed gratitude to the Party, the government, the crew members, and the medical staff. Everyone called their relatives to announce the good news and many couldn’t hold back their tears,” said Dien.
In addition to VN06, several other repatriation flights were designated to many countries and territories around the world, including places that Vietnam has never had commercial routes to. As the pioneering airline in the campaign to rescue citizens and respond to the government’s call to deploy humanitarian flights to epicentres of the pandemic, Vietnam Airlines has operated more than 45 repatriation flights for 13,000 Vietnamese nationals from 27 countries and territories back to Vietnam since early February. A representative of Vietnam Airlines said that the airline performed most of the flights to irregular destinations. In the coming time, Vietnam Airlines will also operate around 35 flights to rescue Vietnamese citizens from countries such as Cuba, the United States, Canada, and the Ivory Coast.
Meanwhile, budget carrier Vietjet also showed willingness to operate repatriation flights to bring Vietnamese people home and will transport passengers from Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
By the end of July, Vietjet had already evacuated nearly 10,000 Vietnamese citizens from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan (China), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar. The carrier also operated a flight to Brunei to bring 140 Vietnamese workers safely home on July 29. Moreover, Vietjet has also run 15 evacuation flights to and from Danang to rescue passengers before the city blockade came into effect since the local resurgence of the pandemic.
According to Dinh Viet Thang, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), since the outbreak of the pandemic, the CAAV has coordinated with airlines to conduct over 80 flights repatriating over 21,000 Vietnamese citizens from more than 50 countries and territories around the world.
“We cannot meet all the needs of the people at this moment due to the significant number of citizens requesting repatriation assistance. People with difficult circumstances will be supported first. The remaining cases will continue to be considered and suitable flights will be opened in the coming time,” said Thang.
Statistics from the Department of Overseas Labour under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs show that over 6,000 Vietnamese workers have returned from abroad. Most of them are those whose contracts have expired, were sick, or lost their jobs after many businesses were forced to lay off workers.
In such circumstances, the government has been coordinating with relevant ministries and agencies to perform these humanitarian flights and bring citizens home. Hundreds of pilots, flight attendants, and medical staff voluntarily participate in these flights even though they know they would face the risk of an infection and undergo quarantine for 14 days afterwards.
Truong Anh Tu, one of the flight attendants on the flight carrying workers from Equatorial Guinea to Vietnam, said: “Actually, I was also scared when I was on this flight but I was determined to do my duty and responsibility for my fellow citizens. Hopefully, the patients will soon overcome the virus without infecting more people so that we can all be together with our families soon.”
According to the plan, the humanitarian flights will continue to be conducted in the coming time. This current repatriation is considered the biggest one ever since the country entered peacetime.