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Laos has no coronavirus, deputy minister assures foreign diplomats

Laos is still free from the coronavirus even though the deadly Covid-19 has now spread to some 79 countries, Deputy Minister of Health, Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone Muongpak, told foreign diplomats yesterday.
The ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held a meeting to brief foreign diplomats and representatives of international organisations on the current situation and the measures Laos is taking to prevent and control the virus.
Responding to a question raised by a foreign representative as to what extent Laos is confident that no one in the country has contracted the virus, the deputy minister said “We are confident in our surveillance system.”
Laos had 53 suspected cases as of yesterday, but all of the people tested were diagnosed negative for the virus.
Addressing the question as to whether the virus could be present but undetected, Dr Phouthone said Laos has an adequate surveillance system whose network covers all provinces in the country.
“When a death is reported, our epidemiologists will go and investigate,” said Dr Phouthone, who is Deputy Head of the Taskforce Committee for Covid-19 prevention and control.
“You may have heard news that there were deaths in (northern) Phongsaly province and in a southern province. Our team there collected samples (for diagnosis),” he said.The deputy minister assured those present of the high standard of Laos’ diagnostic methods, which gave a negative result in all 53 suspected cases.
Samples from each of the suspected cases were tested three times at three different labs - the National Centre for Laboratory and Epidemiology, the Pasteur Institute (Institut Pasteur du Laos) in Vientiane, and the Microbiology Laboratory at Mahosot Hospital.
The National Centre for Laboratory and Epidemiology is certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Two foreign experts employed by WHO are based at the National Centre for Laboratory and Epidemiology, the Director General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control, Dr Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, told Vientiane Times.
In addition, samples from the suspected cases tested in Lao labs were sent to WHO’s lab in Australia for diagnosis.
Dr Phouthone admitted that it was a challenge to prevent the virus from spreading into Laos given that Laos shares a border with China – the epicentre of the outbreak - and the fact that Laos hosts many Chinese workers, businesspeople and tourists.
But the no-virus scenario is indeed possible, thanks to the government’s prompt response.
Health authorities have tightened scanning at ports of entry into Laos and imposed self-monitoring and quarantine measures. 
Laos has imposed uniform standards of self-monitoring and quarantine for the staff of international organisations, business executives, and workers. Self-monitoring is required for all people entering Laos with no Covid-19 symptoms, which means they are required to undergo self-monitoring for 14 days.  During this period, people may go to work and carry out other essential activities but are advised to avoid going to crowded places or public events.
Home quarantine is imposed on passengers who have no flu-like symptoms but have been in close contact with a person carrying the virus. For instance, before coming to Laos, a passenger may have been in close contact with a family member, colleague or roommate who tested positive for the virus. In this case, passengers need to comply with home-quarantine guidelines.  “Such passengers need to undergo home quarantine for 14 days and let their family members take care of their daily needs,” Dr Phouthone told the meeting in the presence of the WHO’s Coordinator, Dr Reiko Tsuyuoka.
Quarantine at designated facilities imposed on those entering Laos in groups, such as students or workers, applies to any group that has had close contact with a Covid-19 patient. Quarantine facilities can include the dormitories of the workers or students.
Companies or projects that employ such workers are required to allocate dormitories for this purpose. The deputy minister said the government has no specific quarantine facilities due to limited funds for their construction.
But anyone showing Covid-19 flu-like symptoms at a port of entry will be taken directly to a hospital for diagnosis. Health authorities have tightened scanning procedures in an attempt to prevent the virus entering Laos. They have also told foreign airlines to take the temperature of their pilots, flight attendants and passengers before flying to Laos.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update March 6, 2020)

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