Updated: August 03, 2021 05:13 AM GMT
Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lao capital Vientiane was built in 1928. In recent years there have been numerous reports of Christians in Laos being victimized because of their faith. (Photo: Wikiwand)
As Covid-19 continues to spread around Laos, fears are growing that underprivileged residents, including minority Christians, could end up suffering a major health crisis.
The official tally of infections in the communist nation of slightly over 7 million stands at around 6,000 while at least seven Laotians are known to have died of the disease.
There have been scores of new cases daily and infections have been reported from several rural provinces with large underprivileged populations living in villages, including Savannakhet, Saravan, Champasak and Khammuan, according to senior officials.
Covid-19 has seen a surge in Laos since many migrant workers returned in June and July from Thailand, where a widespread outbreak has been raging for months owing mostly to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which was first identified in India this year.
The Lao government has sought to play down the origins of the country’s own outbreak by refusing to point a finger at Thailand.
“[The] politicization of vaccines or the origin-tracing of Covid-19 virus should be avoided as it is a complex scientific matter that requires objective, transparent, inclusive and purely scientific-based efforts,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last week.
Laotian authorities sometimes arrest Christians and hold them for up to a week in attempts to control Christian activity
However, should variants of the coronavirus spread unchecked in rural areas, where most of the country’s 150,000 Christians live, a major health crisis could ensue.
Although Laos has pledged to provide universal health care for all its citizens, its quality care capacity “is still nascent. In particular, work on clinical quality of care is just beginning,” according to the Asian Development Institute.
Many of the predominantly Buddhist country’s minority Christians are especially at risk as they are routinely denied government services such as health care in retribution for practicing a faith widely seen as an alien and subversive creed, according to rights groups.
“Laotian authorities sometimes arrest Christians and hold them for up to a week in attempts to control Christian activity. Christians are commonly denied medical treatment as well as educational and other social services,” says the Voice of the Martyrs, a non-denominational charity that campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide.
In a positive sign, Laos has managed to fully vaccinate nearly 12 percent of its population, double the rate of neighboring Thailand.
In all, nearly 2 million Laotians have already received at least one dose of a vaccine, although no statistics are available of how many Christians have so far been vaccinated.
The communist nation is seeking to inoculate more than half of its 7 million citizens in the coming weeks and months with a variety of vaccines donated and procured from abroad.
Laos has so far received a quota of 6.6 million doses, a third of them from China, and is seeking to obtain more, according to officials.
“The government is trying to source the remaining vaccines from friendly countries,” said Phonepaseuth Ounaphome, director general of the Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion under the Ministry of Health.
“[It] will also create a budget to purchase vaccines and source funding from private companies to buy sufficient quantities.”