Laos Remains Vulnerable Despite Mostly Avoiding COVID-19 Carnage, Officials Say

laos-covid-19-taskforce-vientiane-april-2020.jpg The Lao National Taskforce Committee for Control and Prevention of COVID-19 led by Dr. Phouthone Muangpak (C), the country's deputy health minister, holds a press conference in Laos' capital Vientiane, April 2020.
Photo courtesy of a citizen journalist

Health officials in Laos say the government has implemented effective measures to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, but that authorities must ensure they continue to be upheld because the impoverished nation with limited medical resources remains at risk.

The small landlocked country of 7 million people has registered 19 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March 24 with no related fatalities — a number that has remained steady for nine consecutive days, the Lao National Task Force Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control said Wednesday.

Laos is effectively controlling and preventing the spread of the contagious pathogen, said a Lao worker at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) office in the capital Vientiane on Wednesday.

“The WHO continuously gives advice to the Lao Health Ministry about the monitoring, treating, and managing COVID-19 as well as [employing] other measures against it, and our leadership has made a precise decision,” said the woman, who did not provide her name because she is not authorized to speak to the media.

The WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, is working closely with the Lao Health Ministry and has requested advice and aid for Laos, including medical equipment, from ASEAN members, China, South Korea, and Italy, she said.

Laos is a member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional group that promotes economic, political, and security integration among its members.

A member of Laos’ COVID-19 prevention task force said Wednesday that the country is still at risk because it lacks the medical personnel and equipment to deal with a large coronavirus outbreak.

“Laos is still at risk and under surveillance,” said the person, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“Members of the specific task force teams are working hard and campaigning relentlessly to warn the public because our hospitals and medical equipment are not modern,” he said. “We don’t have that much equipment. That’s why we have had to implement strict measures.”

Laos shares long and porous borders with China, Vietnam, and Thailand, adding to the country’s vulnerability to infection.

Lockdown extended

The Lao government ordered nonessential workers to remain at home beginning March 30 to prevent the spread of the pathogen and formed a special health unit to deal with the crisis.

Officials also have closed schools, banned the movement of people around Laos, and prohibited the holding of large ceremonies and religious gatherings. They also have required migrant workers returning from Thailand and other nations to be quarantined for 14 days.

Vientiane residents said people are adhering to the government’s strict measures for controlling the spread of COVID-19.

“The government has declared a state of emergency or lockdown,” said one person who declined to give his name. “The prime minister has been very strict about restricting all travel in and out of the country.”

Another resident of the capital said: “The government has strict rules to control the disease, one of which is for people to stay at home and not go out.”

On April 15, the government extended the country's existing lockdown to May 3 and repeated that measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic should remain in effect until further notice.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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