The government of Laos has locked down the country’s capital Vientiane and barred travel between COVID-19-hit provinces, as cases reached a record high over the weekend. On Saturday, the country reported 467 new cases of COVID-19, its biggest jump in infections since the beginning of the pandemic. This was followed by a further 371 infections on Sunday, 214 on Monday, and 331 yesterday.
Most of the cases have occurred in Vientiane, prompting the municipal authorities to declare a strict lockdown for two weeks beginning Sunday. Under the new restrictions, residents will be forced to stay in their homes unless obtaining food or medicine, or making their way to a hospital, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, all public gatherings, including religious ceremonies, are also banned, as are activities including outdoor exercise and selling street food. The government has also barred travel between seven other hard-hit provinces, while requiring people entering Vientiane to quarantine for 14 days. Many provinces also re-imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.
Last week, Minister of Health Bounfeng Phommalaysith told a news conference. that outbreaks of COVID-19 in some parts of the country are approaching large-scale community transmission. The government will accelerate contact tracing in order to stop COVID-19 from spreading further.
Like its neighbors Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos appeared to have escaped the brunt of the pandemic in 2020. As of March this year, the country had reported fewer than 60 cases. But the country saw a modest spike of cases in Laos, which were likely transmitted across the Mekong River from Thailand, which was then seeing its largest outbreak of the disease.
April’s mini-surge prompted the Lao government to impose a two-week lockdown in the capital Vientiane, to shutter all bars, gyms, and entertainment venues, and to ban inter-provincial travel. But as in neighboring countries, the lockdowns that stemmed the spread of the virus in 2020 have been much less effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has remained stubbornly persistent. As of Tuesday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Laos reached 19,730, in addition to 16 deaths.
The Lao government is aiming to fully vaccinate 50 percent of its adult population by the end of 2021, but like Vietnam, has struggled to procure the amount of vaccines needed to cover its population of 7 million. As of September 20, Laos had administered one jab to 38 percent of its population, and fully vaccinated 26 percent, the fifth-highest rate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
According to a report yesterday in the Chinese state media agency Xinhua, which cited a senior government official, Laos is set to receive 2,434,580 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine, mostly from the Chinese and Australian governments, between now and the end of the year. This comes on top of the 5.5 million doses of the Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Sputnik vaccines that it has already received to date.