Laos is shuttering small checkpoints on its borders with Vietnam and Cambodia as part of a bid to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus into the country, where authorities have yet to announce a positive case of the disease caused by the virus (COVID-19).
The office of the Houaphanh provincial government issued a notice on March 13 ordering 10 of the northeastern province’s 14 checkpoints along its border with Vietnam to close down, citing a lack of resources to screen entrants for symptoms of infection.
The same day, a provincial health official confirmed the closures in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
“Houaphanh province has altogether 14 border check points, including ten ‘traditional’ and ‘local’ border checkpoints which have all been closed,” the official said, referring to checkpoints open to travelers between the two countries that share the border.
“Only four ‘international’ border checkpoints remain open. Each international border checkpoint has only one temperature scanner to check whether a person has a fever or not.”
While many countries use temperature scanners at border crossings to determine whether an entrant requires further testing for COVID-19, others do not, citing a need for very specific conditions required to obtain an accurate reading.
In southern Laos’ Attapeu province, authorities ordered the closure of eight smaller checkpoints that border Vietnam and Cambodia, which have reported at least 60 and 13 cases, respectively.
“The traditional and local border checkpoints are all closed to prevent a virus outbreak, according to the notice of the provincial administration office,” an official at the office told RFA on Monday.
An official with the Attapeu Minstry of Health said Monday that authorities are “preparing medical supplies and equipment” and setting up a team composed of provincial authorities and health workers to assist in border control.
“The team will be stationed at the international Phoukeua Gate” on the border with Vietnam, which remains open, he said.
Also in the south, four smaller checkpoints along Sekong province’s border with Vietnam have been closed, officials said.
All of Laos’ checkpoints remain open on its border with Thailand—which has substantially better healthcare infrastructure, but where 147 positive COVID-19 cases have been identified, resulting in one death.
Call for school closure
Meanwhile, parents of school-age children in Laos are urging the government to close the country’s educational facilities in the event of an outbreak, saying they are at high-risk of virus transmission.
“Schools should be closed if the situation gets worse,” the parent of a six-year-old student in Savannakhet province told RFA.
“Children are too young; they don’t know how to take care of themselves and they don’t like wearing masks.”
A staffer at a private international school in the capital Vientiane said school management is awaiting guidance from the government before it can act.
“We’re waiting for orders from the Ministries of Health and Education,” they said. “We can’t shut things down on our own.”
Laos’ Prime Minister Tongloun Sisoulith ordered temporary closure of preschools and kindergartens across the country beginning Monday while speaking to local media at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane over the weekend.
Cambodia and Vietnam
On Monday, authorities in Cambodia announced that the country’s number of infections had jumped to 13 from seven over the weekend, and included five Cambodians and eight foreigners.
Health officials in the country’s Koh Kong, Battambang, and Preah Vihear provinces are taking samples from 19 of 79 Cambodian Muslims who attended a pilgrimage in Malaysia late last month after two of them returned home in early March and have since tested positive. Authorities are working to locate those who have yet to be tested.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Ministry of Health over the weekend issued a travel ban on foreigners seeking to enter the country from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, the U.S., and Iran. The 30-day ban will go into effect on Mar. 18, the ministry said.
The country’s Ministry of Education on Monday also announced closure of all schools and educational establishments nationwide until further notice.
Vietnam’s state media on Monday confirmed 60 cases of coronavirus, with two patients in critical condition, while police issued warnings to more than 600 people for spreading fake news about COVID-19 on Facebook.
A widely cited map created by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine—which sources data from the World Health Organization and local media reports and health departments, among other global centers—counts 61 cases of infections in Vietnam.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer and Lao Services. Translated by Max Avary and Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.