The government of Laos has closed its borders and announced a two-week lockdown in the capital, Vientiane, as the country weathers a rare outbreak of COVID-19 linked to its neighbor Thailand.
Vientiane will bunker down until May 5, Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh, during which time the city’s residents must remain at home unless buying groceries or seeking medical treatment. All gatherings of more than 20 people will be , and entertainment venues, bars, massage parlors, and gyms will be forced to close.
The government has also banned travel between the capital and the provinces and has moved to clamp down on illegal border crossings from Thailand, which is currently in the midst of its worst outbreak of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
This is Vientiane’s second lockdown, after restrictions were introduced inafter the discovery of the country’s first cluster of COVID-19 cases.
“Now, our country is at high risk of having a COVID-19 outbreak in the community, especially in the capital Vientiane and in Savannakhet province,” Phoutone Muongpak, Lao vice minister of health and head of the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control,on Tuesday.
“I would like to urge our people to comply strictly with the prime minister’s previous orders by stepping up border controls, stopping illegal crossings, and then arresting and sending to quarantine centers anyone who enters Laos illegally.”
The taskforce announced that it identifiedon Wednesday and on Thursday, bringing the total number of known cases to 94.
The state-run Vientiane Times26 of the 28 cases identified on Wednesday were residents of Vientiane who had contact with a student who reportedly caught the virus from a Thai man. The other two were workers who had returned from Thailand to Champassak province in the south of the country.
Officials in Savannakhet province haveof the Mekong River border with Thailand, after a woman who contracted COVID-19 revealed she had been in contact with two Thai men who entered the country via Savannakhet. Lao Airlines also announced that it was until May 5.
Thailand is currently in the midst of its on Friday, a single-day record, bringing its total to 50,183 infections. The country also reported four deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 121.of COVID-19 infections, which has sent the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for new sources of vaccines. Thai officials reported
The Lao lockdown also comes a week after its neighbor Cambodia institutedof the capital Phnom Penh and the nearby town of Takhmau to get a handle on its own alarming COVID-19 outbreak. Announcing the measures last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen , “We are on the brink of death already. If we don’t join hands together, we will head to real death.” The lockdown has since to the coastal city of Sihanoukville.
On Thursday, Cambodian health authorities confirmedof COVID-19, bringing its total to 8,193, while three more people died of the disease, bringing the country’s toll of fatalities to 59.
While the outbreaks in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia may seem insignificant compared to the record-breaking outbreak currently ravaging India, they are alarming given that these nations went through most of 2020 mostly untouched by the virus.
In the case of Laos, the country’s successful avoidance of COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic was purchased at considerable economic cost, with the collapse of the country’s tourism industry pushing the country to the brink of a sovereign default. Lacking the foreign reserves to service its existing debts, the Lao government was forced toin its national electricity grid to a Chinese state-owned firm.
While the Lao government is taking swift action to preempt the spread of the virus, a serious outbreak would effectively wipe out the hard-won gains of the last year, and compound the country’s economic problems still further.