An arduous journey into a country sealed off due to the pandemic

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Dec 17 (efe-epa).- After an arduous bureaucratic process, travelers who manage to enter Vietnam leave the international airport in personal protective equipment (PPE), travel alone in buses protected with plastic, and then quarantine for two weeks in government-designated hotels.

Vietnam closed its doors to tourism in March to curb the spread of Covid-19, and now getting back in is an odyssey for both nationals on repatriation flights and foreign workers and investors who manage to meet the strict requirements of the Communist authorities.

The hardline measures have been key to Vietnam remaining one of the countries that has best managed the health crisis, with a total of 1,397 cases and 35 deaths.

For months, Spanish engineer Enrique López Mañas had been trying to enter the country, where his partner lives and where he now resides after completing his two-week quarantine period at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.

“My partner was here and we hadn’t seen each other since February so I was trying to get in by any means. I quit my job in Germany and have started working for a company in Vietnam,” he told EFE.

Having a job that qualifies him as an expert worker was Lopez Mañas’ first step to being able enter Vietnam, but later he needed to secure approval from the city’s People’s Committee (the equivalent of a city council) and the Center for Disease Control, as well as submit a negative PCR test conducted a maximum of five days before he took the flight into the country.

He explained that getting a plane ticket was not easy, although he had help from his company, which made the arrangements and covered the costs, as Vietnam has not resumed international commercial flights, although several airlines operate charters on a regular basis.

“We were eight passengers going from Doha, Qatar to Ho Chi Minh City in the plane. We had to wear the plastic protective masks throughout the flight, except to eat and drink,” he said.

The sight that greeted them at Ho Chi Minh City’s international airport seemed straight out of a science-fiction movie.

The airport was deserted except for around 20 people, all of them in full protective suits and keeping their distance from the eight newly-arrived passengers to avoid possible infection.

After passing through the security checks and collecting his luggage, the Spaniard wore the PPE suit he had been given and exited the terminal.

He then boarded a bus to travel the seven kilometers (4 miles) to his hotel, traveling alone with the driver, whose seat was cordoned off by plastic.

“Since I was traveling without any companions, I was put on the bus alone, wearing the PPE at all times. Families were put together in the same bus,” he said.

“When I arrived at the hotel, all the employees had the full protective suit on, like me. I had to collect my key from a table and follow the indicated path to my room. I went up on my own in a plastic-lined elevator and walked into the room,” López Mañas explained.

The only people he saw during the quarantine period were nurses who took his temperature each day and conducted the three mandatory PCR tests: one upon arrival, another halfway through, and the last one before leaving.

In the hallway outside his room was a table where hotel staff placed three meals per day, along with any other dish his girlfriend left at the front desk.

He said the staff treated him well and were always available, but it was very strict and he was not able to leave his room under any circumstances.

The difference between these requirements and those he encountered while entering Spain from Germany in June, when he only had to fill out a questionnaire stating that he was not infected, surprised him.

While López Mañas’ company paid for his journey and quarantine, Sonia Pino, a Spanish architect who is scheduled to fly from Barcelona to Ho Chi Minh City via Singapore on Saturday, has not been so lucky.

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