Police block motorists from passing a checkpoint due to lockdown restrictions in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on April 17. (Photo: AFP)
Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh has ordered a two-week lockdown in Vientiane after a surge in confirmed Covid-19 cases, believed to have begun during the Lao New Year holiday period last week.
He said the order was effective from today and would last at least until May 5 with all international borders closed alongside provincial borders. Residents in the capital are banned from leaving their homes except for essential tasks.
Laos, like Cambodia, emerged relatively unscathed from the first year of the pandemic but that has since changed. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Laos is now 88, with 49 recoveries and no deaths. However, 28 of those cases have been recorded in the last three days.
Observers in Laos, who declined to be named because they feared the government, said anecdotal evidence suggested those numbers are much higher and the one-party communist state had not done enough to protect the public against the disease.
“Basically, they have just sat and hoped it would go away. Now they are worried, the numbers are up and there’s little they can do about it,” said one resident.
Laos has vaccinated just 0.4 percent of its population.
Complaints over price gouging persist and supermarket stocks are dwindling
Gatherings must not exceed 20 people, and the prime minister said ceremonies such as funerals must be held with extreme care and in line with Covid-19 prevention measures.
The order was issued as neighboring Cambodia entered its second week of lockdowns, with people in red zones, cutting across large swathes of Phnom Penh, confined to their homes.
Outside those zones people are allowed out three times a week to buy food and essentials. Markets have closed and, fearing a food shortage, vendors have been allowed to sell fresh produce from street corners a block apart from each other. Meat sellers are operating from the back of utility vehicles.
Complaints over price gouging persist and supermarket stocks are dwindling.
Cambodia has confirmed 7,747 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths, almost all since its third community outbreak of the UK variant of the disease, which was traced to two Chinese women who breached quarantine after bribing a hotel guard in Phnom Penh on Feb. 20.
The response has been harsh amid rising discontent highlighted by a video that went viral online which showed security guards on motorbikes caning people with bamboo sticks for not wearing masks, breaching health rules or breaking a nighttime curfew.
Heavy fines and jail terms have been imposed for those who breach health rules
Cambodia’s Interior Minister Sar Kheng has called on authorities to refrain from using violence when enforcing coronavirus restrictions.
“I am taking this opportunity to remind all relevant authorities to perform their tasks with patience, maintain discipline with a dignified attitude, adhere to the force’s code of ethics, and especially to avoid using any violence to resolve problems when implementing the government’s order,” he said.
Heavy fines and jail terms have been imposed for those who breach health rules, with local police confirming 127 people had been arrested in recent days.
Of the latest incidents, seven Vietnamese were arrested while attempting to cross their border illegally and four Cambodians have been jailed for one year for holding a karaoke party where they broke laws regarding an alcohol ban and social gatherings.