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Quarantine rule will keep international flights grounded, experts warn

By Doan Loan   October 25, 2021 | 04:30 pm PT
Quarantine rule will keep international flights grounded, experts warn
Foreign visitors at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, March 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Kieu Duong
Experts said aviation authorities’ plans to resume commercial flights carrying foreign tourists into Vietnam from later this year would be unfeasible if the seven-day quarantine rule remains unchanged.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam last week proposed the launching of pilot flights to carry foreign tourists to several tourist destinations like Phu Quoc, Khanh Hoa and Quang Ninh from this quarter onwards. Passengers would be quarantined at a designated hotel for seven days upon arrival in Vietnam.

In the first month, there would be one international flight a day, with around 4,000 to 6,000 foreign tourists allowed to visit the country. The flight frequency would be increased to two per day in the next months.

Dr. Bui Doan Ne, general secretary of Vietnam Aviation Business Association, said the plan would not be feasible with the seven-day centralized quarantine rule.

"No foreign tourist would sacrifice seven days of a holiday to be isolated in a hotel," he said.

From October 10-20, when some domestic routes were resumed under a trial phase, the seat occupancy rate was just 30-50 percent. Several flights were nearly empty, forcing carriers to cancel flights and avoid losses. Strict quarantine regulations imposed by localities were blamed.

After the quarantine requirement was eased, the number of domestic passengers has increased sharply, Ne noted.

He also said Vietnam has committed to accepting "vaccine passports" of many countries and territories where the pandemic situation is under control. Therefore, with the key markets of aviation and tourism, it was necessary to exempt foreign passengers with vaccine passports from centralized quarantine, he argued.

Economist Ngo Tri Long said CAAV’s plan has not yet drawn from the experiences of regional countries like Thailand and Singapore in reopening aviation and tourism.

Aviation is a driving force of economic development and tourism a key economic sector with a turnover of $35 billion per year, he noted, adding that the quarantine rule would prevent foreign tourists from returning to Vietnam.

Only Vietnamese repatriates or foreigners who need to enter the country to do business need to accept such a quarantine regulation, Long said.

"A large number of fully vaccinated foreign tourists wish to return to Vietnam for their vacations. We need to consider this as a chance to boost economic recovery and create jobs for locals."

Long proposed that international commercial flights resume in November and fully vaccinated foreigners with a valid Covid negative certificate be exempt from the current quarantine rule.

A representative of national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines who did not wish to be named also proposed a quarantine exemption for fully vaccinated foreign tourists arriving from ‘green zones’ that are deemed to carry low Covid infection risk.

If visitors are not fully vaccinated; or if they are coming from high-risk areas, they can be isolated at designated accommodations for seven days. If the test results are negative, they can be allowed to travel within Vietnam. Vietnamese citizens returning home, meanwhile, can self-monitor their health at home and avoid being quarantined at hotels.

"If the quarantine period is too long, foreign tourists will not want to fly to Vietnam. Instead, they will opt to go to Thailand and Singapore that offer easier entry," said the Vietnam Airlines representative.

Many countries have reopened their doors and do not even require passengers to be fully vaccinated. All visitors need is a negative PCR test result to be allowed entry.

Nguyen Tien Dat, general director of Hanoi-based AZA travel company, said foreign tourists with vaccine passports can be isolated for one to two days at isolated resorts in Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and Da Nang. After they show negative Covid results, they can travel to other places within the country, he proposed.

The Vietnamese government has announced tentative plans to reopen doors to foreign tourists after over two years of border closures.

Kien Giang, Khanh Hoa, Quang Nam, Da Nang and Quang Ninh, home to a number of tourist hotspots, will be allowed to welcome foreign tourists starting November as part of the nation’s roadmap to gradually resume international tourism.

Under the current vaccine passport policy, even fully vaccinated visitors to Vietnam have to undergo centralized quarantine for seven days.

Vietnam currently accepts Covid-19 vaccine passports from 72 countries and territories, and is discussing the issue with 80 others, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced last week.

The nation closed its doors to foreign tourists and canceled all international flights in March last year to contain Covid, allowing only Vietnamese repatriates and foreign experts and highly-skilled workers to enter.

Vietnam recorded a 79 percent decline year-on-year in the number of foreign visitors in 2020 due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic.

The nation welcomed just 3.83 million foreign visitors against a record 18 million in 2019, according to official data.

 
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