'Travel pass' rules make a bad situation worse for workers

By Le Tuyet, Viet Tuan, Dinh Van   July 7, 2021 | 04:51 pm PT
'Travel pass' rules make a bad situation worse for workers
HCMC residents line up for Covid-19 testing at Military Hospital 175 in Go Vap District, July 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.   
With neighboring localities requiring all commuters from HCMC to be Covid-19 free, getting the required tests and clearance has placed additional burdens on businesses and workers.

Worn out after a long fruitless wait from 9 a.m. till noon at Military Hospital 175 in Go Vap District, driver Ngo Xuan Tuan said he would have to get tested at all costs in the afternoon to get a travel pass to Nhon Trach District in Dong Nai Province.

At the Military Hospital 175, a quick antigen 1-hour test costs VND350,000 ($15), and PCR tests with results within one day costs twice as much.

Tuan is one of more than 3,000 people who have come to the hospital for Covid-19 testing at the hospital over the past two days to qualify for traveling to some busy districts in the three neighboring provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong and Long An.

Tens of thousands of workers and residents travel from HCMC to the three localities every day.

Since July 5, all travelers to Dong Nai Province have to show negative results of Covid-19 tests taken within 7 days. As of July 6, travelers to Di An City in Binh Duong Province also had to submit results of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests taken within seven days, or quick test results taken within 3 days.

The districts of Tan Tru and Duc Hoa in Long An Province also started to apply the same rule yesterday.

With the new rules from local authorities, businesses have begun asking their workers to get the Covid-19 testing done out of their own pockets.

For instance, Taiwanese sportswear maker Pouyuen Vietnam in Binh Tan District in HCMC has asked about 10,000 workers who live in Long An Province to get tested. Kim Truc, 39, who works for Pouyuen said she has to pay VND238,000 ($10) per test.

Workers of Taiwanese sportswear maker Pouyuen Vietnam wait to be tested in Duc Hoa District, Long An Province in the morning, July 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Workers of Taiwanese sportswear maker Pouyuen Vietnam wait to be tested in Duc Hoa District, Long An Province in the morning, July 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Meanwhile, Swiss women’s undergarments maker Triumph International Vietnam, which is located at the Song Than I Industrial Zone in Di An City, has had to stop operations, because half of its 3,000 workers who live in Thu Duc City are yet to get tested and have proper "travel passes".

Mai Thi Hong, chairwoman of the company’s labor union, said they called all hospitals and clinics in Thu Duc City to book for Covid-19 testing, but the establishments were full except for one clinic in Tan Binh District about 20 km from the factory.

800 workers yet to be tested tried again the next morning, but most establishments in and around Thu Duc were still overloaded, she said.

Triumph has since hired medical staff to provide testing for all of its workers at its factory once every three days for VND400,000 per test.

Hong said the new regulations were costing Triumph over VND1 billion every testing session. They can also cause production delays and increase the risk of contagion as people have to gather in large numbers to be tested, she added.

Also in Di An City, in the Tan Dong Nghiep B Industrial Zone, human resources manager Le Thi Van with footwear maker Chang Shuen Co. Ltd said over 300 of their 700 workers who live in Thu Duc City had to get tested.

Since the antigen tests that give quick results have to be done within three days, workers have to get tested twice a week, costing VND3.2 million a month. This is not including the loss of wages incurred by having to take time off for testing.

Bui Thanh Nhan, Secretary of the Di An Party Committee, said that every day, over 10,000 people travel to work in factories in different parts of the city. These people have to be subjected to strict control because the pandemic was spreading.

"Mandatory negative results will cause some difficulties for businesses and workers, but it won’t last long," Nhan said, adding that the situation would last for 10 days at the most before municipal authorities find other alternatives.

Associate Professor and Doctor Tran Dac Phu, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine under the Ministry of Health, said that it was necessary to control commuters to prevent contagion.

However, local authorities should only require travelers from specific risky locations to test negative for Covid-19, instead of the current "indiscriminate mandates."

Phu said requiring negative Covid-19 test results of everyone was also an unnecessary and wasteful effort, because they can only show results at the moment of sampling. So as people travel and get in touch with Covid-19 patients they can still get infected. Phu advised local authorities to be flexible in identifying and implementing solutions.

Nhan said most factories in the city were organizing testing for their workers but local authorities haven’t been informed of the details. In the long run, all information about testing and vaccination should be shared with control stations for better supervision, he added.

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