Since a few weeks, the Swiss Laos Hospital Project has a new representative in Laos, Gabriele Grossenbacher. She replaces Regine Wehrle, who had reported from Laos for the last time at our Annual Meeting 2021.
In a video message from early October, Gabriele Grossenbacher describes how the Corona pandemic has evolved in Laos. After Laos had been largely spared from the Corona virus in 2020 thanks to border closures, there was a first, small wave of infection in April 2021 in connection with the Lao New Year (Pi Mai). This was addressed through local lockdowns in the so-called „red zones“ and rigorous tracing.
A second wave followed in July/August 2021. It was caused by Lao migrant workers who lost their jobs because of the Corona situation in Thailand. An estimated 250,000 Laotians returned home as a result. Despite the installation of quarantine centers and the extension of the original 14-day quarantine to 28 days, the virus spread to the population.
Currently, Laos is experiencing around 300 to 600 new cases per day. Local lockdowns are still in effect, with a nighttime curfew between 21:00 and 05:00. Only grocery stores are open in these zones; restaurants must limit themselves to takeaways and deliveries. Violators will be fined, and those who test positive will be transferred to a hospital or one of the emergency hospitals set up in stadiums and large sports halls until they recover.
Hospitals do not appear to be overloaded so far, and no severe cases of covid are reported in the media. Since the beginning of the pandemic, only 26 pandemic deaths have been registered in the whole of Laos (as of October 10, 2021). More dramatic are the economic consequences, which are also evident in the streets of Vientiane: Many restaurants have been closed, houses are advertised for sale or rent.
The vaccination rate in the country is just under 30 percent, although it is disproportionately higher in Vientiane and other cities than in rural areas. Laos is not in a position to procure vaccine itself, and therefore relies on donations from abroad. China and South Korea recently pledged to provide 1.5 million doses of vaccine.
Overall, it is clear that the zero-covid strategy in Laos (as in many other countries) will not work in the long term. Nevertheless, the international borders are still closed, there is no air traffic to/from Laos, and no visas are issued. Therefore, the Swiss Laos Hospital Project is also currently unable to send volunteer teams to Laos. However, we are in regular contact with our partners in Laos, organizing video conferences, discussing medical cases and providing financial assistance to fight the Corona pandemic.