Laos is tightening controls along its eastern border to prevent COVID-19 from entering with visitors from neighboring Vietnam, where cases of new infection have surged in recent days, Lao sources say.
Authorities have put new restrictions in place at all points of entry from Vietnam, an official from the Lao Security Ministry’s Immigration Department told RFA’s Lao Service on Aug. 7.
“Whoever comes in has to have a medical certificate issued within the last 72 hours from the COVID Center in Vietnam, and they then have to be quarantined for 14 days in Laos,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Vietnamese construction workers and technical experts entering Laos to work on dams or help build the new Lao National Assembly Building in the capital, Vientiane, must strictly comply with all new preventive measures, the official added.
Residents of Sekong province in southern Laos meanwhile voiced fears that people from Vietnam’s coastal city of Danang, where the numbers of infections continued to climb this week, might sneak unnoticed across the border into Laos.
“I’m afraid because our Dak Jung district is only 100 kilometers from Danang,” one Sekong resident said, adding, “Three or four of our villages near the border will be on lockdown until Aug. 31.”
Another Dak Jung villager said that many Vietnamese are already present in the district.
“Some of them have been here for a long time, though others are newcomers. But we’re worried about those who avoid the border gates and enter through the forest. Our health-care system isn’t good, and we don’t have modern hospitals.”
Lao border guards should now strengthen their patrols along the border, because Vietnamese often cross illegally into the district to look for work, he added.
Around 3,000 Vietnamese truck drivers entered Laos through checkpoints on the border during the first six days of August, but had to transfer their cargo to Lao trucks at the border gates and then return home, the Lao Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Control and Prevention announced on Aug. 6.
Workers return from Thailand
Fifty Lao workers who had been held for more than two weeks on the Thai border with Laos were meanwhile allowed to return home this week, a Lao health worker from Vientiane confirmed to RFA on Aug. 7, saying the workers had crossed into Laos from the Thai town of Nongkhai.
“We took in 50 of them from Nongkhai. They tested negative for COVID-19 but we still kept them in quarantine for 14 days,” the health worker said.
“They had to wait [in Nongkhai] because our center was full,” said a police officer at the Km 27 Quarantine Center in Vientiane, explaining the cause of the delay. “We always have to release one group before accepting another.”
“I was stuck in Nongkhai for more than half a month,” one Lao worker told RFA on Aug. 7, saying he had just arrived at the center. “Now I’m happy, and I’m going home as soon as the quarantine is lifted.”
Around 250 Lao workers are now living under quarantine at the Km 27 Center, a center official told RFA, adding, “The center is financially supported by aid, but what we get is never quite enough for what we need.”
Vietnam’s Health Ministry meanwhile announced on Aug. 7 that three more cases of COVID-19 infection have been linked to the pandemic’s new epicenter in Danang, including two new cases in Quang Tri province and in Thanh Hoa.
A total of 784 cases of infection and 10 deaths have now been recorded in the country as of Aug. 7, state sources said.
Vietnam must now prepare for a long-term battle against the pandemic, with local authorities working to ensure sufficient supplies of food and medicine in their areas, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told cabinet members, ministry heads, and local leaders in a virtual meeting on Friday.
Reported by RFA’s Lao and Vietnamese Services. Translated by Max Avary and Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.