June 18, 2020 / 11:03 AM / 19 days ago

Health officials praise Laos after coronavirus-free declaration

BANGKOK, June 18 (Reuters) - International health organisations on Thursday praised Laos’ early response and countrywide networks for containing the novel coronavirus after the Southeast Asian nation declared itself free of the virus earlier this month.

But they said the country with a border with China, which is tackling a new outbreak, must remain vigilant.

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith declared Laos free of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on June 10 after the last of the country’s 19 cases recovered and 59 days with no new infections. The country has suffered no fatalities.

Howard Sobel, acting World Health Organization representative in Laos, issued a statement on Thursday commending Thongloun, the COVID-19 Task Force and the Emergency Operations Center.

He also thanked “frontline health staff for their tireless efforts (including weekends and holidays) to enhance early warning and early detection systems, contact tracing, and prepare the Lao health system, borders and quarantine centres to respond to COVID-19.”

He warned imported cases remain a threat.

“The measures put in place for these initial wins, must remain and continue to be strengthened,” he said.

The low number of cases in Communist-run Laos had prompted scepticism, but a representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Laos said there were few unofficial reports of illnesses or deaths on social media or in villages.

“It’s difficult to hide, so yes, I believe it,” said Ludovic Arnout, the IFRC’s Asia Pacific Coordinator for Water, Sanitation, Health and Care, based in Laos.

He praised the government’s community information campaign that reached remote areas.

He also credited awareness among Lao people, who willingly embraced the cancellation of April’s annual Laos New Year water festival and accepted wearing face masks to prevent spread of disease.

“The masks were widely used quite quickly,” he said. (Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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