|Laos to import face masks from Vietnam. Photo: Vientiane Times|
Lao Foreign Minister Saleumsay Kommasith said at a press conference on March 19 in Vientiane that no case of coronavirus.
The minister said all suspected cases of COVID-19 in Laos have been tested and confirmed negative for the virus.
He announced that Laos has raised the warning for the COVID-19 epidemic to the highest level on the same day.
According to the minister, schools at all grades in Laos will be closed for one month, while the issuance of visas for international visitors will be suspended for 30 days as from March 20.
|Laos also halted visa exemption for citizens from all countries, except those holding diplomatic and official passports. |
The country will also close all secondary border gates with countries that share borderline with it, and consider closing international border gates in case of necessity.
“The first lot of two million face masks will be imported to Laos soon, of which 1.5 million will be for health workers. Their tasks put them at risk of infection from patients. Then masks will be provided to patients in hospitals to control the spread of their illnesses to others,” Minister of Health, Dr Bounkong Syhavong said. “Another 500,000 face masks will be sold to the public,” he added.
An import agreement was concluded following a request from the Lao government to Vietnam, which had temporarily suspended the export of face masks as they are in high demand within the country. Vietnam agreed to export the masks to Laos because of the special relationship between the two countries.
“Within a few weeks, a company from the neighbouring country will set up a factory in Laos for producing face masks. When completed, it will produce up to 500,000 face masks per month,” he added.
Even though the imported face masks will not satisfy current demand, they will meet elementary needs. Face masks selling across Laos have increased by up to tenfold because of worries related to COVID-19 infections in neighbouring countries, even though no case has been reported in Laos.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce issued a notification last month that stated the price of face masks must not exceed 25,000 kip for a box of 50 pieces, or 1,000 kip per piece for retail sales.
However, consumers have complained they cannot find masks at the notified prices. Masks sold on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are going for 165,000 kip to 200,000 kip for a box of 50 pieces.
“Meanwhile, countries which export face masks to Laos are dealing with their own outbreaks of COVID-19 and demand for masks in those countries has increased,” he noted.
“About 250,000 face masks will be imported to our country in the next few weeks by a Lao company, but to sell such items at the notified prices, we have to give them incentives such as tax cuts and other measures,” he said.
Foreign diplomats briefed on COVID-19 situation, preventive measures
The government on Thursday briefed diplomats and representatives of international organisations about the current situation in Laos, along with existing and proposed measures, by authorities to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.
During the session, which took place at the ICTC in Vientiane, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Saleumxay Kommasith delivered the government statement, which outlined the current state of affairs in Laos as well as what measures the government had taken and will add to prevent a COVID 19 outbreak.
|Lao Foreign Minister Saleumsay Kommasith (L) at the the press conference|
Deputy Minister of Health, Associate Prof Dr Phouthone Muongpak was also at the session, helping the Lao authorities to address inquiries of the invited guests. According to the statement, despite the fact there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Laos, the country remains highly vulnerable as it shares borders with five nations which have confirmed cases.
Over recent months, the government has imposed strict measures to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak, including the establishment of a national committee in charge of the coronavirus prevention efforts.
The government has also prepared hospitals to isolate and treat suspected COVID-19 patients.
To deal with the changing COVID-19 pandemic around the world and in neighbouring countries, the Lao government will impose additional measures as follows:
1. Close all “local” and “customary” border checkpoints across the country. As for international border checkpoints, only those that are fully equipped with the necessary equipment and staff for standardised screening and detecting suspected infected persons will be allowed to open.
2. Suspend the issuance of all kind of visas on arrival, including E-Visa and tourist visas for all nationals for the next 30 days. For those who already have obtained an entry visa to Laos, they must also attach a health certificate and a historical record of hisher activities over the past 14 days before entering Laos. As for visa exemption countries, the government has decided to temporarily suspend such exemptions until further notice, except those who hold diplomatic and official passports.
3. Avoid travelling abroad in this period, especially by air and mass transportation.
4. People travelling from a country with an outbreak must self-quarantine for at least 14 days and self-monitor their symptoms as a duty to wider society. In case of a fever, it is advisable to notify doctors and relevant authorities immediately.
5. Avoid large gatherings of people, such as traditional and customary festivals and events, trade shows, sporting events, weddings, various activities in celebration of the Lao New Year and others.
6. Close all entertainment venues, karaoke and massage services. Other businesses may operate as usual but must take the necessary precautionary and preventive measures such as using temperature scanners and hand-sanitisers for customers to protect themselves and others.
7. Temporarily close all nurseries, pre-schools, primary schools and all academic and educational institutions (public and private) across the country until further notice. In the meantime, there must be coordination with all schools to promote teaching and learning through online, television, radio, newspapers and other means.
8. Designate a 14-day quarantine area for inbound travellers from high-risk countries, including Lao workers and students returning home for the Lao New Year festival. (There will be separate instructions for Lao migrant workers).
9. Advise all Lao nationals currently staying abroad to postpone their return home, until the global pandemic situation is under control.
Other additional measures will include strict action against any opportunist who withholds or stockpiles goods, especially basic necessities such as facemasks, hand sanitiser, medications, medical equipment and others. Stringent measures will be imposed against those who create social disturbances or cause misunderstandings, such as releasing fake news via social media platforms and other channels.
Authorities will promote domestic products, especially consumer goods that may be lacking when there is an imposed restriction on exports by other nations, by taking advantage of this opportunity to enhance the resilience of self-reliance and efficiency.
The government will continue to coordinate, exchange information and mobilise further cooperation and support from the international community, particularly for under-equipped vital areas.
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