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Ministry steps up virus screening measures at borders

Health officials and medical staff across the country must implement newly introduced screening and quarantine measures at all border crossings to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Inspections must be more rigorous, especially in monitoring the health of all passengers travelling to and from China.

This was the highlight of an interview on Friday given by Deputy Minister of Health, Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone Muongpak, to the media during a visit to check on screening measures at Wattay International Airport. 
If screening staff find anyone who is unwell and has a cough or cold, the authorities will interview them. If they suspect the person is carrying the virus, they will send him or her to hospital for further examination and treatment, and the person will later be repatriated, he said. The deputy minister  pointed out that Laos shares a border with five countries including China, so there is a high risk of the virus spreading here, especially in light of the fact that a person carrying the virus would probably have no symptoms during the first one to two weeks of infection. This would mean that their infection could not be detected upon entry into Laos.
The ministry is preparing for the worst-case scenario following the outbreak in China. Particular vigilance is in place at borders in the northern provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay, which share borders with China and other neighbouring countries, and travellers from these countries will be carefully screened.
The deputy minister admitted that the ministry was concerned about the risk to public health. It was a challenge to prevent people infected with the virus from entering Laos because screening measures at some border crossings were not stringent enough, he said.
The ministry has instructed all Chinese owned or operated companies in Laos to carry out checks of their Chinese employees.
Associate Prof. Dr Phouthone said the ministry would work closely with the World Health Organisation and other international health agencies to monitor the development of the new strain of coronavirus.
In the meantime, development partners have provided medical equipment and personnel to help screen people on entry into Laos, he added. The deputy minister advises members of the public to protect themselves against the virus by limiting contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
These people may travel and come into contact with many others and potentially spread the virus. About 80 Lao students who returned from China for the Lunar Year holiday had colds and went to see medical staff at Mahosot Hospital, but all tested negative for the virus.
Health officials say the death rate caused by the virus is just 3 percent of total infections, which is far less than the 9.6 percent killed by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which claimed the lives of 774 people in 2002-2003.
Officials warned members of the public to be alert to fake news about the virus, saying people who wanted accurate and up-to-date information could contact authorities at +856 20 5406 6777 or hotline No. 166 around the clock.

By Phetphoxay Sengpaseuth  
(Latest Update February 3, 2020)


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