Lao authorities are on high alert after returning migrant workers from Thailand imported a highly infectious variant of Covid-19 into one of Asia’s poorest countries with limited medical resources. Vientiane, the capital, recently recorded more than a dozen new imported cases, while today at least 41 new infections have been recorded in Champasak province and at least 67 cases have been confirmed in Savannakhet province, both cities with large susceptible populations in rural areas.
To date, more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Laos, and the re-emergence of the virus across the country is a cause for concern. Of the cumulative cases, more than 700 are still active (under treatment), 2,380 have recovered from the disease, and 4 have died cumulatively. Lao authorities are on high alert after migrant workers returning from neighboring Thailand imported the highly infectious Covid-19 variant into one of Asia’s poorest countries with limited medical resources.
More than a dozen new imported cases have been recorded in the capital Vientiane, while at least 43 new infections have been recorded in Champasak province and at least 42 cases in Savannakhet province, both of which have large susceptible populations in rural areas.
To date, Laos has recorded nearly 3,000 cases of the potentially fatal coronavirus, and officials are alarmed by its nationwide reemergence. Of the total, more than 700 are active cases.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers from Laos perform a variety of manual labor in Thailand, but a new local lockdown has sent many of them home.
There is growing concern that people crossing the border illegally without health checks may be importing the highly virulent Covid-19 delta variant that originated in India earlier this year.
The variant has spread widely in Thailand in recent weeks, infecting thousands of people each day.
“In a country of 7 million people, about 80 percent of whom live in rural areas, many locals have limited access to quality health care
. With a large number of Lao workers returning from Thailand, Laos is at high risk for the spread of the Delta variant, especially if all precautions against the virus, including border patrols, are not strictly enforced,” Dr. Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, director of the Division of Infectious Disease Control, said at a recent news conference.
Joint border teams are reportedly monitoring boats traveling across the Mekong River, where the two countries’ borders meet, to stop people from entering Laos illegally without health checks.
Nearly 350,000 people in Thailand have been infected with Covid-19 so far, the vast majority of them in the past few months.
The mass infection has placed a burden on the country’s health system, leading to a severe shortage of beds for critically ill patients in the capital city of Bangkok.
There are concerns in Laos that an outbreak like the one in Thailand could have devastating consequences in a country where modern health care facilities are still rudimentary and even in the rural hinterland where medical coverage is non-existent.
In a country of 7 million people, about 80 percent of whom live in rural areas, many locals have limited access to quality health care.
“Health care provided at the local level often struggles with a lack of qualified medical personnel, inadequate infrastructure and an inability to afford equipment and drug supplies,” explained Pacific Bridge Medical, a U.S.-based company that advises global health care companies on health care-related issues.
“As a result, Laos relies on international assistance in the form of vaccines, training for medical professionals and staff, and strengthening maternal and child health. Affluent individuals in need of medical care tend to travel to Thailand for more expensive but higher quality treatment.”
Faced with the growing threat of a massive Covid-19 outbreak, the Lao government has stepped up mass vaccination efforts in recent weeks, with some 600,000 Laotians, or more than 8 percent of the population, fully vaccinated to date.