Chinese laborers working on a high-speed rail line connecting landlocked Laos with its northern neighbor China are being allowed to re-enter Laos if they go into quarantine to address COVID-19 concerns which have kept the country’s border closed to others, Lao sources say.
Those returning to work in the area of the capital Vientiane must enter a two-week quarantine on arrival, a member of the country’s Taskforce Committee for Control and Prevention of COVID-19 told RFA’s Lao Service on Tuesday.
“The Chinese are being quarantined for 14 days, with 126 of them housed under observation at the Donchan Palace Hotel, and one other being housed at the Sky Hotel,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
All 127 workers, including some technical experts, arrived in the capital by air on May 1 and were immediately sent to the hotels, he said.
“They came straight from the airport and checked into around 100 rooms in our hotel,” a receptionist at the Donchan Palace Hotel confirmed, adding that the returning workers had been medically examined before being sent to their rooms.
“The Ministry of Health collected fluid samples from them and sent them to the lab, and their temperatures will be taken twice a day at 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. during their stay here,” the receptionist said.
Elsewhere in Laos, Chinese workers who left for visits home during the Lunar New Year have not yet returned, though, Taskforce Committee members in other provinces told RFA on Tuesday, saying that the Boten Border Checkpoint between the two countries has not yet opened.
“If they come through, they will have to have medical certificates from their companies [vouching for their health],” a Committee member in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos said, while a Committee member in Oudomxay province in the northwest, where rail construction is still under way, said that Chinese workers employed there may possibly return after May 17.
Meanwhile, in other parts of Laos where the railway is being built, Chinese workers and experts who stayed in Laos before the country closed its borders continue to work alongside their Lao counterparts, sources say.
Laos largely has been spared from the effects of the coronavirus, reporting only 19 cases since March 24, but no related fatalities.
The Lao-China railway project—now 83 percent complete—is being touted as a boon for the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people because it is expected to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development.
The estimated U.S. $6 billion project, whose construction began in December 2016, is part of a longer rail line that will link China to mainland Southeast Asia under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
Early this year, the Lao Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare reported that there were a total of 16,000 rail workers in the country, including 11,500 Chinese with the remainder Lao.
Reported and translated for RFA’s Lao Service by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.