Laos and Vietnam confirmed new cases of the coronavirus Friday, the first in more than three months in two countries praised for success in keeping the pandemic at bay, health officials in the Southeast Asian nations said.
Laos was lauded by the World Health Organization last month for “exemplary” handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, during which the government “did all the right things to stop it spreading.”
Vietnam has been among the most successful countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people, a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
“The strategy was swiftly deployed with the help of the military, public security services, and grass-root organizations,” said the International Monetary Fund in an analysis.
“Effective and transparent communications won the population’s buy-in, and contains broader lessons for developing countries,” the IMF said June 29.
Foreign nationals figured in two of the three cases reported in Laos and Vietnam.
In Laos, a 32-year-old South Korean national who is an expert working on the Nam Ngiep 1 dam project in Bolikhamxay province, tested positive Thursday evening.
The Korean man had flown from Japan to Laos’ Vientiane International Airport via South Korea and was in his fifth day of quarantine at the Mekong Riverside hotel in Vientiane.
He was part of a team with four other South Korean experts, who were also under mandatory 14-day quarantine in the same hotel.
Phouthone Muangpak, Laos’ deputy health minister, told a news conference Friday that the man had tested negative prior to entering the country.
“This case was checked in Japan already. He flew from Osaka to Tokyo, then to South Korea to change flights,” said the deputy minister.
“He tested negative and had a health certification paper. In Vientiane, we checked him again to make sure. It must have been that the virus had not yet matured enough to show up in his snot and saliva. That is why it wasn’t detected,” he said.
From the beginning of his quarantine on Sunday, the Korean expert had remained in his hotel room and was brought food and water by hotel staff. He also had his temperature taken every morning and evening, as required by the quarantine protocol.
After he tested positive, the other 109 passengers who entered the country on the same flight were sent to several different quarantine areas.
An official from the Lao health department told RFA Friday that he was admitted to the Vientiane Friendship Hospital on Thursday.
“The South Korean citizen is receiving treatment in an isolated room with no contact from anyone on the outside, just like at the hotel,” said the official.
Though it is the country’s first documented case in over three months, citizens told RFA’s Lao Service that they were only slightly worried about a potential second wave of COVID-19 because they trust the government’s preventative measures.
“He was in quarantine and was being watched closely so that he wouldn’t go all over the place, so it’s not a problem. We’re staying mainly at home and everyone is still wearing masks,” a Vientiane resident told RFA.
Another Vientiane resident told RFA, “I saw the announcement, but I think it won’t be a problem. We live far from the new case that came from South Korea.”
According to figures from Laos’ health ministry, through July 24, a total of 24,749 people have been tested for the virus, but including the South Korean technician, only 20 have tested positive. The other 19 have already been cured.
Two test positive in Vietnam
Vietnam also confirmed two COVID-19 cases Thursday, breaking a streak of no new cases in 99 days.
A Myanmar sailor who arrived from Japan on June 23 on the Vietnamese bulk carrier Ipanema went into quarantine July 6 at the Van Long hotel in Quang Ninh province, only to test positive on Thursday.
The patient is undergoing treatment at the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi.
The health ministry reported another case, a 58-year-old man in the city of Danang, but have yet to identify the source of transmission. The man has not been out of the city, but he had contact with his neighbors and attended a wedding recently.
The man entered the Danang hospital July 20 after developing a cough and breathing difficulties. Doctors initially diagnosed him with pneumonia, but collected samples for a coronavirus test.
These were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Nha Trang and the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Hanoi, and the results were confirmed in Nha Trang Friday.
The man had been in contact with more than 100 people over the past few days. Many of these, including his family tested negative.
Vietnam has reported 413 cases through Friday, 273 of which are in people arriving from foreign countries.
Reported by RFA’s Lao and Vietnamese Services. Translated by Manichanh Phimphachanh and Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.