Vietnam Fighting To Stop A Pilot Becoming Its First Coronavirus Death

A pilot for Vietnam Airlines is fighting for his life after contracting coronavirus in a Vietnam bar. The 43-year-old British man would be the country’s first death if he does not recover. Despite round-the-clock care, the pilot’s pre-existing health conditions have been affecting his chances of recovery. He may need a lung transplant to fully recover, but there are complications.

Vietnam Airlines coronavirus
The Vietnam Airlines pilot has been in critical care for over a month. Photo: Vietnam Airlines

Patient 91

Vietnam is a prime example of how a lockdown and social distancing can work. The country has introduced some stringent measures and aggressive testing, which has resulted in under 300 cases in total. However, some of its cases have been serious and one, a Vietnam Airlines pilot, has garnered a lot of attention.

The pilot has been identified only as Patient 91, but his critical condition has raised a considerable amount of public support. According to Reuters, the pilot has just 10% of his lung capacity and has been in critical care for over a month. The man is believed to be British and he picked up the virus in a bar in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this year.

As well as spending more than 5 billion dong ($200,000) on care, local media has said that at least ten people have volunteered to donate part of their lungs to help save the pilot. A lung transplant operation in China was previously successful in saving a patient’s life.

Despite multiple volunteers, the Vietnam National Coordinating Centre for Human Organ Transplantation told local media that “We are touched by their good intentions, but current regulations don’t allow us to transplant lungs donated by most living people.” Lung donations can only come from brain-dead patients, according to Vietnamese law.

Vietnam Airlines and JetStar Pacific were two of four airlines that were allowed to continue domestic operations Photo: Vietnam Airlines.

Coronavirus in Vietnam

Although it shares a border with China, Vietnam has managed to keep cases to a minimum. Of the 4,000 people tested from the bar where the pilot is believed to have contracted the virus, just 18 tested positive.

The country closed its borders on March 22nd and imposed a 14 day quarantine in government-run facilities for anyone entering the nation. Its border with China was closed in January. All inbound international flights have been suspended and Vietnam Airlines initially suspended all international flights until April 30th.

However, the airline conducted minimal domestic operations in mid-April as restrictions tightened. Some cargo flights were also allowed, but under strict rules. Vietnam Airlines operated domestic services alongside Jetstar Pacific, Bamboo Airways, and VietJet Air as the only carriers with permission to operate passenger flights.

Signs of recovery

While patient 91 is yet to show signs of recovery, the rest of Vietnam is beginning to reopen slowly. Some businesses opened at the end of April, and the lockdown has now been lifted. Vietnam is one of the first countries to lift lockdown measures, but it hasn’t been easy, Many tourists in Vietnam were forced to remain put, if their visa expired, they were charged to acquire new ones.

Vietnam Fighting To Stop A Pilot Becoming Its First Coronavirus Death
The border with China is now partially reopened. However, a heavy reliance on tourism means Vietnam will not be able to recover fully until other countries do. Photo: Vietnam Airlines

While Vietnam itself is looking to reopen businesses, attractions, and airports, the lack of tourists means it will still struggle for many months. Vietnam relies heavily on tourism revenues for income. With other countries not allowing citizens to holiday abroad, it will still be a difficult recovery for Vietnam.

Vietnam’s quick recovery goes to show how interdependent we now are on other countries. For airlines with complex international networks, the differing rules and regulations show that, for airlines to recover, they need the majority of destinations to be open for business, not just their home nation.

Vietnamese Airlines are no doubt happy they can operate more domestic routes as well as routes to China. However, without other countries opening borders, recovery will be slow.