Police in the Lao capital Vientiane arrested a 25-year-old woman this week for posting rumors online that persons infected with coronavirus were shopping at the Chinese Sanjiang shopping mall in the city.
The woman, whose name was not given in reports, has now been charged with spreading rumors aimed at causing public panic, police sources said.
Reached for comment on Feb. 25, an official from the Lao government’s Department of Health told RFA that the story posted by the woman online was false.
“These statements posted on social media were not true,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The police are still looking for the people who made these posts,” he said. “They arrested one woman yesterday, and they’re looking for others right now.”
Also speaking to RFA, a manager at the Sanjiang mall said the facility has seven or eight health workers staffing the mall each day to check people coming in and out for signs of infection.
“We also have closed-circuit television monitors and scan everyone who enters the mall,” he said, adding, “So far we have found no cases of infection.”
“We have already released a statement together with the Health Department saying that the story isn’t true,” he said.
Speaking to Lao media on Feb. 25, Rattanamany Phetsouvanh—head of the infectious diseases department of the Department of Health—said that on learning of the rumors, health officials had immediately gone to Sanjiang to investigate and had found no cause for concern.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism spokesman Pin Pathana Phanthamaly confirmed to the press that no cases of infection had been found, adding that the Sanjiang shopping mall was open for business as usual.
Despite a rise in cases of coronavirus infection worldwide and a climbing death toll, no cases of infection have been confirmed to date in Laos.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.