Vietnam brought home 343 citizens from the U.S., the world’s Covid-19 epicenter, on a Vietnam Airlines direct flight Friday.
The flight carrying one U.S. citizen had departed from Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport Thursday morning to San Francisco after Vietnam Airlines completed all procedures required by U.S. authorities, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.
The return flight landed at the Van Don Airport in the northern province of Quang Ninh at 6:45 p.m. Friday. Passengers included overseas students under the age of 18, seniors and people in extremely difficult circumstances, business travelers and tourists whose visas had expired. They underwent medical checks before boarding and wore face masks througout the flight.
A representative of the Van Don Airport said this was the first time since the end of the Vietnam War that a Vietnamese carrier had operated a direct flight to and from the U.S.
After having their health checked, all Vietnamese citizens returning from the U.S. were sent to quarantine camps in the northern provinces of Ninh Binh, Ha Nam and Hoa Binh and had their samples taken for Covid-19 testing.
The repatriation flight was originally set to take off on May 2 from San Fransisco, but was postponed because the airline had not fulfilled all licensing procedures under local laws, the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S. said.
As of Friday, the U.S. was the country with the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, far surpassing the second most affected country, Spain. Almost 1.3 million have been infected with the disease in the U.S., and nearly 77,000 have died.
Over 2.1 million Vietnamese currently live in the U.S., mainly in California.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Category 1 rating to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, meaning it meets safety standards to operate direct flights to the U.S.
Vietnam Airlines got the green light to operate direct flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to several American destinations in September last year. No such flight under the permit has been scheduled.
All Vietnamese airlines have suspended international flights since March 25.
In April and early May, Vietnam has operated 11 special flights to repatriate 1,700 citizens from Canada, Japan, France, Thailand and the UAE.
Vietnam has recorded 288 Covid-19 cases so far after 17 Vietnamese returning from UAE were confirmed positive Thursday night. The country has recorded no community transmission in the last 23 day.
Reporting by Nguyen Quy @ VNExpress