Over 100 Vietnamese passengers arriving in Saigon Wednesday noon on a flight from Seoul refused to be quarantined at hotels, protesting unaffordable charges.
The Vietjet Air flight VJ963 from Incheon International Airport that landed at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport was the second inbound flight permitted by aviation authorities after the Vietnamese government last month green-lighted the resumption of commercial flights to and from seven Asian destinations.
After completing immigration procedures, over 100 of the 158 passengers on the flight refused to proceed to hotels for the mandated 14-day quarantine, angrily protesting what they said was a discrepancy in the rates mentioned before and after arrival. A demand by some that the hotels allow four people in a room was refused as it would flout Covid-19 preventive protocol.
Some of the angry passengers booed and created a ruckus, live-streaming the incident on Facebook, gathering public attention. Several hours later, authorities intervened and took the passengers to a centralized quarantine facility in the outlying district of Can Gio.
Nguyen Thanh Nhan, 49, one of the Vietnamese passengers on the flight, told VnExpress from the Can Gio quarantine camp that passengers on the flight protested because Vietjet did not initially announce the specific quarantine fee.
“When selling tickets, the airline only said customers could choose to be isolated at two places, at centralized quarantine facility for VND120,000 ($5.16) per day, or at hotels, without saying how much it would cost a day,” said Nhan.
Nhan said when arriving at Incheon Airport he was asked to sign a commitment paper agreeing to be quarantined at a hotel before boarding the flight.
Another passenger on the flight, who asked to remain anonymous, said that when the plane landed at Tan Son Nhat, a Vietjet staff announced that the hotel isolation fee was VND1.3 million per day, and all passengers agreed. But just minutes later, the carrier said it could not find vacant rooms and there were only options at VND1.7 million ($74), and then VND5 million ($216), the passenger said.
“We were not informed clearly on quarantine prices, and the final offer was beyond the pockets of many of us.”
Doan Quoc Binh, deputy general director of the Southern Airport Authority, said at a press conference Thursday that all the 158 passengers had signed their commitment to being quarantined in hotels on arrival, but only three of them did so.
Some passengers persuaded others to refuse to go to hotels so that they could be taken to centralized quarantine facilities at cheaper costs, he said.
“Many people caused disorder, affecting the image of Vietnam’s aviation industry. Some live-streamed and uttered falsehoods on social media,” Binh said.
The city’s Covid-19 steering committee intervened to have those refusing to be quarantined at hotels sent to the centralized facility in Can Gio, around 45 kilometers from the airport, to limit risks of community transmission, he added.
Officials have suggested to the Civil Administration Aviation of Vietnam that it asks airlines to apply stricter procedures and regulations including collecting hotel, transportation and testing fees from passengers before they board the flights to avoid similar incidents in the future.
‘Not humanitarian flight’
“VJ963 was a commercial flight, not humanitarian flight and passengers should have voluntarily registered to be quarantined at hotels,” Binh said.
Nguyen Thi Thuy Binh, deputy general director of Vietjet Air, said at the press conference that the airline had announced the list of hotels designated as quarantine facilities for all passengers at the Incheon Airport before the aircraft took off.
All the passengers had agreed and signed commitments to be quarantined at hotels upon arrival in Tan Son Nhat.
Binh said Vietjet does not decide hotel rates, but was responsible for surveying and trying to find the most reasonable chargers for passengers.
Responding to passengers’ complaints that it announced higher hotel rates than it initially informed the passengers, Binh said the airline was not allowed to announce specific hotel prices based on the instructions of the Department of Tourism. Therefore, the airline had only announced that the hotel quarantine fee was expected to cost around $100 per night, depending on the services.
Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa, deputy director of the municipal tourism department, said the city has designated 10 hotels with a capacity of nearly 1,000 rooms as paid quarantine facilities for passengers.
The two to five-star-hotels charge passengers between VND1.2 million to VND5 million per room per night, she said.
Doctor Phan Thanh Tam, deputy director of the HCMC Center for Disease Control, said that as guided by the Health Ministry, people entering the country are divided into two groups, those arriving on humanitarian flights and those on commercial flights. The latter have to use paid quarantine services and have to register specific addresses, book for hotels in Vietnam before boarding the flight, Tam said.
To limit the risk of infection, each passenger will stay in a separate room during the quarantine period, but a maximum of two people are allowed to share a room.
From January until the end of August, the Vietnamese government had quarantined people arriving in the country at its facilities or military camps for 14 days for free.
It has since decreed that foreign nationals and Vietnamese citizens returning from abroad have to pay a minimum of VND120,000 a day to be quarantined at government facilities while those preferring to quarantine themselves at hotels and resorts have to pay the listed price at these establishments.
Vietnam has gone 29 days without domestic transmission of the novel coronavirus. It has so far recorded 1,095 Covid-19 infections, of which 39 are active cases.
Reported by Huu Cong, @Vnexpress