A friend of mine who had just returned from abroad and was in a concentrated quarantine site, texted me yesterday: "Why was I fully vaccinated and had a negative PCR test but I have to be quarantined for 21 days?"

I said some words of comfort and said nothing more because that’s the way Vietnam and some countries fight the pandemic. My friend was anxious after he read the news that the Ministry of Health on July 14 issued a regulation that people entering Vietnam from abroad are required to have a quarantine period of 14 days, instead of 21 days as before.

Inside a concentrated isolation site in Khanh Hoa Province. Photo: VNA

Since early 2020, Vietnam has temporarily stopped commercial flights and allowed only repatriation flights to repatriate Vietnamese. Those who enter Vietnam must be isolated at concentrated quarantine centers and be tested negative for the virus before returning home. Thanks to this policy, Vietnam avoided major Covid-19 outbreaks throughout 2020.

So far, many countries have expanded vaccinations for the population and accepted vaccine passports.

In Vietnam, the authorities of Khanh Hoa province on July 14 approved the policy of building a pilot plan to welcome international tourists with "vaccine passports," using charter flights.

This province will give priority to international tourists who use closed services at resorts and golf courses. They must have vaccine passports, meaning that they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (two shots) and have a negative PCR test within 72 hours before their departure.

Context has changed

In March, between the 3rd and 4th wave of the epidemic, Dr. Luong Hoai Nam, a member of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), stated: "Vietnam should not wait for the end of the epidemic to welcome international visitors."

Regarding the vaccine passport, Nam shared three ideas.

Firstly, Vietnamese people who have been fully vaccinated abroad (with a vaccine passport) are allowed to return home by commercial flights to Noi Bai, Tan Son Nhat, and Da Nang airports (instead of rescue flights which are very few and difficult to register for) and they do not have to be quarantined. They are tested at the airport of arrival, then go straight home and stay home until they receive the PCR test result (within 12 hours).

Secondly, foreigners who come to Vietnam for non-tourist purposes and have vaccine passports from countries on the "green list" of the World Health Organization (WHO) are subject to the same regulations as the Vietnamese mentioned above.

Thirdly, foreigners who come to Vietnam for travel, have vaccine passports from countries on the WHO’s "green list" can firstly visit Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang Province under a pilot program recently approved by the Government. This model will be trialed on Phu Quoc and then be reviewed before being expanded to other tourist sites no later than the end of 2021.

According to the current regulations of the Vietnamese Government, foreigners or Vietnamese who want to enter the country must have been fully vaccinated (two shots) and must have a negative PCR test certificate.

The question is: Do people who have been fully vaccinated carry the virus and are at risk of spreading the disease?

According to WHO, anyone who has received 2 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine is unlikely to spread the virus, and if they are given another negative PCR test certificate, they are clearly guaranteed not to have the virus.

Answering this question is extremely important and legitimate to convince people who are still afraid of the vaccine and strengthen the position of the Government and local authorities in accepting the vaccine passport.

This issue is important, especially when the Politburo has requested pilot use of vaccine passports with international visitors to some tourist centers where the epidemic can be controlled, such as Phu Quoc Island.

A few months ago, the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) said that 81% of its members said that they would send more employees to Vietnam if the mandatory quarantine period is reduced from 21 days to 7 days.

Vietnam closed the border earliest in the world to fight the epidemic, but the current situation has changed when many countries have vaccinated a sufficient proportion of their population, and many countries are using the vaccine passport.

If Vietnam imposes a 14-day quarantine period when foreign visitors have been fully vaccinated, they will not come here. This regulation also makes it difficult for many overseas Vietnamese to return even though they have been vaccinated.

In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry accounted for 12% of Vietnam’s GDP, with about 18 million foreign tourists coming to Vietnam, creating many jobs and prosperity.

But now it's different. Local airlines, tourist firms and hotels are exhausted and many workers are jobless. Meanwhile, some countries, including Thailand, have applied for the vaccine passport to welcome foreign tourists to islands.

I know that raising the issue of accepting the vaccine passport in the context that the epidemic is spreading in Ho Chi Minh City and some southern provinces is out of tune, which can cause additional troubles for the Ministry of Health. But this is an issue that must be considered as the situation has changed.

Tu Giang