Authorities in Laos are urging the public to suspend or postpone all “unnecessary” social events including weddings and Lao New Year celebrations in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In a public notice, the Lao government told the people to take strict precautions and avoid large gatherings.
The Southeast Asian country has yet to report a single confirmed case, but there are confirmed cases in neighboring Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Laos also borders China, where the first COVID-19 outbreak occurred in December.
An official of Laos’ Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism confirmed to RFA’s Lao Service that the government had issued the advisory, saying, “Yes, our ministry has warned those planning events to postpone them if possible.”
“If they have to hold [the events] please make them small and simple,” the official said.
The official also said that hotels and restaurants should comply with new suggested operating procedures.
“If a restaurant wants to host a dinner reception, it should be short, only one hour or so,” the official said.
“The COVID-19 committee will inform the public once the outbreak is over.”
Miss Lao New Year
Meanwhile in Luang Prabang province, local authorities decided to scale down festivities for the Lao New Year (April 13-15). Under normal circumstances, the Lao New Year holiday would include local festivals nationwide, including the Miss Lao New Year beauty pageant held in Luang Prabang.
But an official of the Luang Prabang Administration Office told RFA on March 9 that public events have all been canceled.
“Our office sent out a notice banning all large public gatherings, even during the Lao New Year celebration. Only necessary traditional rituals will be allowed. All other unimportant social events have been suspended,” he said.
On March 11, Luang Prabang issued an official notice stating that the Miss Lao New Year pageant was cancelled by the provincial governor on the recommendation of the Lao prime minister. The cancellation of the April 10-11 pageant also means there will be no Miss Lao New Year parade through the streets of Luang Prabang city and its accompanying carnival atmosphere.
Hoteliers and restauranteurs in the city had been expecting a slight increase in income because of the pageant, but now they are expecting losses.
“Right now, our patronage is just half of what it used to be,” a restaurant owner in the city’s downtown area told RFA.
“We were expecting a big increase in sales during the New Year, but now it’s been canceled. We’re in trouble,” the restauranteur said.
A hotel owner told RFA, “As soon as the New Year celebration was canceled, we saw a lot of reservation cancellations.”
Meanwhile, Thailand-based Bangkok Airways will begin suspending flights to the Lao capital Vientiane starting March 29.
“We’re going to cancel the Bangkok-Vientiane route because of the coronavirus outbreak and because of the lower number of travelers,” an employee of the airline told RFA.
As of Wednesday afternoon there were 59 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Thailand, 35 in Vietnam, three in Cambodia and 80,921 in China.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.