Laos has announced a two-week lockdown in the capital Vientiane, with restrictions also ordered in several provinces as the number of COVID cases in the country suddenly climbs, Lao media sources say.
Vientiane will now be shut down from April 22 to May 5, Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh announced on Wednesday. City residents must remain home unless buying groceries or seeking medical help, and travel between the capital and the provinces is now banned, Phankham said.
Only essential state and private workers may now travel to their jobs, and entertainment venues have been completely closed, Phankham said, adding that more testing stations will soon be set up around the city.
“We have 28 more cases of COVID-19 infection today,” Phonepadith Xangsayrath—director general of the Ministry of Health’s National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology—told a press conference in the capital Wednesday.
“Yesterday, we took samples from many of the people who were in contact with the entertainment venues attended by four previous COVID-19 infected persons, and we found that 26 people in Vientiane have tested positive for the virus, ” Phonepadith said.
“Two Lao workers returning from Thailand also tested positive for the same virus in southern Champassak province, which brings our total number of cases to 88. We’re now testing more people in the capital and in some of the high-risk provinces,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Phoutone Muongpak—Lao Vice-Minister of Health and Head of the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control—pointed to what he called a spike in the number of cases of infection in the country since early April.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Lockdowns in the provinces
In Borikhamxay and Saravan provinces, authorities have now ordered all schools closed from April 19 to May 2 in districts where infected persons live, while in Savannakhet’s Vilaboury district authorities locked down four villagers after a Lao worker returning illegally from Thailand went to one village and then visited the others.
Three districts of Xayaburi province, bordering Thailand, have already been locked down to prevent border crossings, with patrols now stepped up on the border in Borikhamxay, Khammaouane, and Savannakhet, and possible crossing points along the Mekong River guarded around the clock by soldiers and police, sources say.
Prime Minister Phankham has meanwhile called for health authorities to step up the vaccinations of target groups, expanding the program to the general public as soon as possible, and is encouraging private clinics and hospitals to buy COVID-19 vaccines from foreign suppliers and administer the inoculations to their own employees and members of the public themselves.
One private clinic owner in Vientiane expressed interest in the plan, saying, “I’ve been asked by many patients whether I provide that service. I expect that only the rich will come to the clinic, though, while members of the public and workers insured by the government will go to the public hospitals.”
Lao residents already qualifying for vaccinations are meanwhile flocking to district and provincial hospitals, waiting for their shots, while in Vientiane a large public hospital is having trouble controlling the crowds.