A woman wearing a face mask amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus stands in front of a poster for the Disney film Mulan in Lao capital Vientiane. (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP)
The Laos government will keep its borders closed to foreign nationals and impose testing and the issuing of medical certificates before travelers are allowed to exit the tiny landlocked, communist country in a bid to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Phonepadith Xangsayarath, director general of the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology, said people with flu-like symptoms, coughs, sore throats, or respiratory problems or anyone with a history of contact with a high-risk group, cannot obtain a medical certificate.
The National Taskforce Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control has ordered the Laos Health Ministry to conduct the tests, adding that only technical experts, diplomats and students would be allowed to travel outside the country.
“The medical certificate should certify that the traveler does not display any Covid-like symptoms and is Covid-negative. This preventive measure will go a long way in stopping the spread of the virus,” Phonepadith told the official Laos media.
Foreign diplomats, technical experts and diplomats wanting Covid-19 medical certificates required to leave Laos must obtain an official letter from their embassy and report on the specific objectives and the details of their travel to the committee.
Laos, like neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia, has fared well in the current pandemic when compared with the United States and Europe. It has reported just 19 cases of Covid-19, no deaths and all have recovered with the last patient discharged from hospital on June 9.
However, much of the country of seven million people remain isolated and there are concerns that Covid cases may have gone unreported. Just 20,000 people have been tested since January.
Phonepadith said patients who require hospital treatment overseas would be allowed to leave his country but they would still have to comply with the entry requirements of the destination country.
Multiple health checkpoints have also been established and foreign travelers would be required to produce medical documents from their country of origin, he added.
The Laos economy, among the poorest in Asia, has also taken a hit since a lockdown was announced in March and American credit rating agency Fitch Ratings has downgraded its economic outlook from “stable” to “negative”.
“Laos is in a difficult situation. The economies of its richer neighbours – China and Thailand – are in the doldrums and their prospects are not good, and much of the Laos countryside remains isolated,” one analyst, who declined to be named, said.
“It also has big debt issues to deal with, resulting from massive infrastructure projects including railways, highways and dams which have been built largely at China’s behest.”
The Lao government has also been working with the World Bank to evaluate the economic impact of Covid-19 with local businesses laying off staff and about 100,000 Laos workers returning home from Thailand with few or no job prospects.
That’s about 10 percent of the workforce and local authorities have urged returnees, mostly young, to find work in agriculture development in remote areas.