Vietnam flight to repatriate 120 Covid-19 infectees leaves for Equatorial Guinea

By Doan Loan, Chi Le   July 28, 2020 | 03:27 pm GMT+7
Vietnam flight to repatriate 120 Covid-19 infectees leaves for Equatorial Guinea
The flight crew and medical staff on the Vietnam Airlines flight that left Hanoi on July 28, 2020 to evacuate 219 Vietnamese in Equatorial Guinea. Photo courtesy of the medical staff.

An unprecedented flight departed from Hanoi on Tuesday morning to bring home 219 Vietnamese workers, of whom 120 are Covid-19 positive, from Equatorial Guinea.

The Ministry of Health dispatched two doctors and two nurses from Hanoi’s National Hospital for Tropical Diseases on board the aircraft alongside ventilators, protective clothing and specialized masks to support the infected Vietnamese.

The aircraft would fly directly from Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport to Bata International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, the total flying time being over 12 hours.

At Bata Airport, Covid-19 negative passengers will board the aircraft first, followed by their infected compatriots. Doctors and ground staff will monitor all boarding passengers.

Four positive pressure chambers using plastic screens were set up on the aircraft to separate the infected passengers from others.

The flight is scheduled to return to Vietnam at around noon on Wednesday, with everyone aboard to be quarantined upon arrival. The infected ones will be treated at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases. This will be the highest number of Covid-19 patients the hospital has to treat at once.

The repatriation flight can be considered unprecedented, as Vietnam has no direct flights to Equatorial Guinea, a nation with poor infrastructure and ongoing conflict.

A positive pressure chamber is set up on a Vietnam Airlines aircraft used to bring home 120 Vietnamese infected with Covid-19 from Equatorial Guinea. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Hung.

A positive pressure chamber is set up on a Vietnam Airlines aircraft used to bring home 120 Vietnamese infected with Covid-19 from Equatorial Guinea. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Hung.

Flight attendant Pham Xuan Truong said the crew to Equatorial Guinea volunteered to evacuate the stranded workers, some of them in critical condition, despite the high risk of infection.

Doctor Than Manh Hung, head of the medical staff onboard, said no flight has ever transported such a large number of passengers infected with the novel coronavirus, and that he is prepared for the worst scenario.

Such a high number of infected patients poses a challenge for the medical team. The rate of positive patients is very large, about 50 percent, while there are about five to seven in critical condition, Hung noted.

The narrow space on the aircraft, lack of ventilation and high virus concentration make medical staff vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.

"All of us are worried, but prepared for the worst scenario that we can get infected with Covid-19," he said.

The flight was set to depart on August 3 but was rescheduled to a week earlier.

"We have raced against time to prepare everything and help airline staff learn how to wear protective equipment because they are not medical personnel, even a small mistake can lead to trouble," Hung said.

Early in July, over 200 Vietnamese workers in Equatorial Guinea had sent a letter to Vietnamese representative agencies in Angola, asking for help. Many were confirmed to be carrying the virus.

They were working at Sendje Hydropower Plant in Equatorial Guinea under labor contracts between Duglas Alliance Ltd of the U.K. and three Vietnamese companies.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered relevant agencies to arrange a special flight to bring the Vietnamese workers home since many had been infected.

More than 16,000 Vietnamese have been brought home from 50 countries and territories on 60 flights since the country started repatriating citizens stranded abroad on April 10, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

50 more flights would bring another 13,000 people home by the end of next month.

Vietnam has reported 431 Covid-19 cases, including 15 cases of community transmission in the past few days. The country of 96 million people, which shares a long border with China, has recorded no deaths so far.

 
 
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