South Korean visitors expose holes in coronavirus response

By Truc Lam   February 24, 2020 | 07:56 pm PT
South Korean visitors expose holes in coronavirus response
One of the Korean visitors, who arrived in Da Nang City from South Korea's Daegu, resisted being put under quarantine in a local hospital, February 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.
South Koreans coming from Covid-19 hotspot Daegu refused to be quarantined in Vietnam Monday, leaving local authorities perplexed.

At 1 p.m. the Da Nang airport received a flight from Daegu that had 20 South Korean and two Thai nationals. The visitors were immediately taken by car from the airport to a quarantine area at Da Nang Lung Hospital.

The South Korean visitors refused to enter the quarantine area. Some said they wanted to return home and others wanted to isolate themselves at a hotel. Some said they didn't want to do either because they only planned to stay in Da Nang for two days.

The municipal Department of Health arranged accommodation for the Koreans at a hotel in Son Tra District at the city's expense. Doctor Le Thanh Phuc, director of the Da Nang hospital, said, "the Korean tourist group changed their mind later and said they did not want to go to the hotel, after learning that there was a Vietnamese person with fever on the same flight. They were worried about not receiving medical care and about food and drink expenses at the hotel."

Together, the head of the Health Department, staff of the South Korean embassy and the office of the South Korean Consul General in Vietnam managed to persuade the visitors to enter the quarantine area.

At 5 p.m. the same day, embassy staff informed the hospital that the Koreans wanted to go to the hotel. The hospital agreed, but the hotel manager turned the group down. The visitors were given yogurt at the hospital while waiting for the next solution.

Dr Phuc said handling of the situation became somewhat perplexing because Vietnam has not had a consistent approach to deal with situations before flights land.

"Vietnam should have refused entry at the airport itself for travelers from epidemic-hit areas," he said, adding that the two Thai guests had not been allowed to enter Daegu, so they had come to Da Nang, joining the Korean group from the city.

Pham Truc Lam, deputy director of the Da Nang Center for Disease Control, said people from epidemic hit areas should be barred from entering the city.

Da Nang Center for Disease Control disinfected arriving visitors from Daegu city, February 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Truc Lam

The Da Nang Center for Disease Control disinfect visitors arriving from South Korea’s Daegu City, February 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Truc Lam.

At around 6 p.m., Da Nang authorities decided to take the South Koreans to a four-star hotel in Hai Chau District. The municipal Department of Health was tasked with disinfecting the hotel before receiving the guests.

"The city will cover their living and accommodation costs," said Hoang Son Tra, Deputy Chief of Office of Da Nang's National Assembly Delegates.

Earlier Monday, a flight carrying 80 people from Daegu City also arrived in Da Nang.

There were 22 South Korean passengers and 58 Vietnamese students and workers, besides the crew. The Vietnamese passengers would be quarantined at the Dong Nghe Military Reserve Center in Hoa Vang District, while the South Koreans at Da Nang Lung Hospital in Lien Chieu District.

At a government Monday afternoon, Deputy Health Minister Do Xuan Tuyen said the National Steering Committee for Coronavirus Prevention and Control decided to assign the task of quarantining people coming from virus-hit areas, including Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk Province in South Korea, to the Mnistry of National Defense.

As of Monday, South Korea had recorded 833 Covid-19 infections, making it the second largest outbreak area in the world after China. Death toll in the country has risen to seven. The country has issued a red alert, its highest level for viral attacks.

Around 200,000 Vietnamese are currently studying and working in South Korea, 8,285 of them in Daegu, according to the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Vietnam has sought to control travel flow from South Korea, with health declarations required from everyone coming from the country. Those with symptoms like high fever, coughing and breathing difficulties will be placed in quarantine, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

Several major cities have also deployed preventive measures against possible infection cases coming in from South Korea. Saigon's Tan Son Nhat International Airport has, for instance, already performed temperature checks on large numbers of South Korean arrivals.

All of 16 confirmed Covid-19 infections in Vietnam have so far have tested negative after treatment, with just one remaining in quarantine pending repeat test results.

The global death toll has reached 2,699, mostly in China, followed by Iran with 12, South Korea with eight and Italy with seven.

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