Update: 10:35 | 18/01/2021
Thousands of Vietnamese workers in Laos and Thailand are forgoing extra income opportunities and returning to Vietnam earlier than usual for Tet.
They are making the time for undergoing the compulsory 14-day quarantine before reuniting with their families for Tet, the Lunar New Year festival.
On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Vietnamese workers from the two countries were gathered at an entry point at the Cau Treo international border station in Ha Tinh Province, waiting to submit their medical declarations.
Vietnamese workers returning from Laos and Thailand listen to quarantine regulations at Cau Treo border gate in Ha Tinh Province, central Vietnam, January 17, 2020.
They wore face masks and stood in line, listening to Covid-19 prevention regulations announced by authorities as their luggage was placed in the middle of an empty lot for medical staff to spray disinfectant chemicals.
They had their body temperatures checked and then got on buses to a centralized isolation facility for the 14-day quarantine mandated by the Health Ministry’s protocol.
While waiting for his turn to go through the medical declaration procedures, 56-year-old Tran Van Be from the central province of Nghe An called his relatives.
Be has been a construction worker in Laos for seven years. Before Covid-19 times, he used to return home three times a year to visit his wife and children.
Since early last year, when the pandemic broke out and spread quickly, Be was stuck in Laos, and this was the first opportunity he was taking to reunite with his family.
A medical staff disinfects luggage of Vietnamese workers in Ha Tinh Province, January 17, 2021.
Be said that in previous years, he would work extra hard at this time to augment his earnings, but of late, the income of part-time workers in Laos has been unstable because of the pandemic’s impacts.
"So I decided to return home to celebrate Tet early."
Tet, which falls mid-February this year, is the biggest and most important festival in Vietnam for which millions of migrant workers from different parts of the world return to their homes.
Before returning home, the workers had registered with the Vietnamese Embassy in Laos, directly or online. After three or four days, they received notification of the re-entry schedule, Be said.
Having undergone seven days at a centralized quarantine facility of the Cau Treo border gate along with 300 others, Phan Thanh Nha, 25, a native of Ha Tinh, said the first test of his samples had returned negative for the novel coronavirus.
Nha said he was waiting for the second test on the last day of the quarantine so that he could return home to reunite with his family.
A week after returning to Vietnam, Nhan said he felt comfortable, but he was very eager to meet his parents, because he had only been able to chat with them via social networks for the last seven months.
Nhan has worked in Laos for VND8 million ($346) a month and if he worked overtime towards the end of the year, this would go up to more than VND10 million.
"If I still stayed in Laos to continue working at this time, I might have to go home late after the 14-day quarantine and be unable to celebrate Tet with my family," he said. "It’s time for family reunion and for helping my parents clean up the house to prepare for Tet."
Major Tran Van Song, head of the Cau Treo border gate station, said that since the beginning of January, more than 200 people have been entering the country every day, all undergoing medical examinations and being taken to centralized quarantine facilities.
Vietnam closed its borders in March last year and banned the entry of foreign nationals except those with diplomatic or official passports and high-skilled workers who’d been permitted to come.
Border troops detained 31,460 people who tried to illegally enter the country last year as the government stepped up prevention efforts, including border closures, to combat Covid-19. These included 25,000 people entering from China and the rest from Laos and Cambodia.
The Ministry of National Defense has also ordered the military to bolster troop numbers along borders to prevent illegal entry, since a large number of Vietnamese working in neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China would seek to return home for Tet.
Vietnam’s success in containing the pandemic has been rooted its strict quarantining and tracking measures. Thus far, the nation has recorded just 1,537 infections and 35 deaths, and has not reported any community transmission for the last 44 days.
According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 100,000 citizens have left Vietnam, which has a workforce of around 50 million, to live and work in more developed nations. Most of them go for labor-intensive and low-skilled jobs.