Laos' Fight Against COVID-19
Laos has been one of the few success stories in containing COVID-19 and mitigating its worst effects. However, a recent spike has caused widespread worry about the government’s ability to maintain low infection rates. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese government has stepped in to provide expert and material support to its neighbor. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it stands as an example to the rest of the world regarding supporting other countries in need.

Laos and COVID-19

Until recently, Laos was a shining example of how to contain the virus successfully. Between Laos’ first reported case on March 24, 2020, and April 18, 2021, the Southeast Asian nation had a total of 58 reported cases and zero deaths. The government achieved incredible numbers by acting swiftly. Almost immediately, Laos officials instituted a nationwide lockdown and provincial lockdowns and developed a rigorous testing system for migrant workers and travelers.

However, the rigorous response came with a significant cost to the economy as tourism and remittance plummeted. According to the World Bank, the expected GDP growth will be its lowest in more than three decades at 0.4%. Moreover, the unemployment rate is a staggering 23% while the public external stock has increased to 65% of GDP. The debt levels had gotten so out of hand, the government had to sign a 25-year concession of its electrical grid to a majority Chinese-owned company.

Nevertheless, the government sacrificed economic growth to save countless lives. The severity of the dichotomy becomes apparent when looking closer at Laos’ healthcare system. For example, the Global Health Security Index ranks Laos 92nd regarding “health capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centers.” Moreover, it ranks the country 101st regarding ease of access to healthcare and 116th in “capacity to test and approve new medical countermeasures.” Innovativeness and access are vital to dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Recent Spike of COVID-19 Cases

Although reports have not determined any deaths, the total cases jumped from 60 on April 20, 2021, to 933 just a few weeks later. The incredible jump came as the average cases per day rose to 87.

What makes the situation more worrisome is that Laos has only administered 184,387 COVID-19 vaccines in total. With a population of 7.5 million, only 1.34% of the population has obtained vaccines. The government is administering about 4,424 doses a day. At the current rate, it will take another 325 days before about 10% of the population receives vaccinations.

The spike has its origins in its neighbor Thailand who has struggled to contain the virus. On April 21, 2021, Laos reported 28 cases of COVID-19 infections in its capital. All 28 cases occurred via Thailand. About 26 cases were from residents of Vientiane who had contact with a student carrying the infection from a Thai man. The remaining two cases involved migrant workers who had recently returned from Thailand. 

Vietnam Provides Assistance

In late April 2021, the Vietnamese Minister of Health, Nguyen Than Long announced that the Vietnamese government would donate 200 ventilators, two million masks, 10 tons of ChlorominB and other supplies to aid Laos’ fight against COVID-19 and prevent the outbreak from getting worse. Along with supplies, the government will send experts to help contain the virus. It will also assist Laos officials in setting up a rapid testing system. In total, the Vietnamese government has announced that it will send 35 doctors and experts on May 4 to help with diagnosis, treatment and the construction of field hospitals. 

Vietnamese support comes with demonstrated success in managing the pandemic. Overall, Vietnam has experienced 2,962 infections and 35 deaths. Notably, Vietnam was able to relatively contain the virus without sacrificing its economy. In 2020, its economy grew by 2.9%, and in 2021, expectations have determined that it could reach a growth of 6.6%.

Looking Ahead

Nevertheless, Laos has a long way to go in curbing the recent spike in infections. Preventing an increase in infections from overrunning the healthcare system and turning into a full-blown crisis will require decisive action. With a rudimentary healthcare system that has undergone economic exhaustion, assistance from Vietnam is critical in its struggle against the pandemic. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it provides an important example for other countries helping those struggling in the pandemic.

 – Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr