Outbreaks of Covid-19 in some parts of Laos are approaching large-scale community transmission, technically known as Level III, Minister of Health Dr Bounfeng Phommalaysith has warned.
Addressing the daily news briefing on September 21, the minister said that outbreaks in some areas are currently categorised as Level II (localised community transmission) but are poised to become Level III.
He was clearly referring to Vientiane and the provinces of Khammuan and Champasak, which have seen recent daily increases in the number of cluster cases.
Vientiane, which has recorded hundreds of locally-transmitted cases in recent days, has been worst hit by the outbreak after the virus spread among factory employees.
The government has imposed a full lockdown in the capital until September 30.
The minister, who is also vice-chairman of the National Taskforce for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, warned of the high risk of an escalating outbreak following the rising incidence of cluster outbreaks.
On September 21, 331 new Covid-19 cases were reported, including 296 cases occurring in clusters.
The new cases were found among 6,508 people who were tested for Covid in the previous 24 hours, the taskforce announced on September 21.
Ministry director-general for Communicable Diseases Control Dr Lattanaxay Phetsouvanh told the press briefing that cluster outbreak cases were rising rapidly, especially in Vientiane. On the other hand, the number of imported cases is declining.
Cluster outbreak cases rose by 72.79 per cent to 2,191 cases at present, compared to the same period last month when just 345 cases were recorded.
Among the 296 cluster cases confirmed on September 21, Vientiane recorded 176 – the highest in the country.
Employees at a garment factory in Nongtha Neua village, where hundreds of workers tested positive last weekend, continue to form the bulk of positive cases in the capital with the number reaching 72 on September 21.
Champasak province in the south recorded 59 cases, while central Khammuan and Savannakhet provinces recorded 28 and seven cluster cases respectively. Eight and six cases were reported in the northern provinces of Xieng Khuang and Luang Prabang respectively. Bokeo and Saravan each saw three cases, while six were reported in the central province of Vientiane.
As cluster outbreaks spread, authorities have set up two Covid test centres in Vientiane. These are located at the Beungkhayong Indoor Stadium and Sikhottabong Upper Secondary School, which provide tests from 9am until 12 noon every day.
“There is also a plan to open more sample collection centres in the suburbs to extend services,” Dr Lattanaxay said.
People who live in the provinces can get virus tests at provincial hospitals or designated centres.
Meanwhile, authorities have set up 116 quarantine centres and 55 hotels across the country where some 6,818 people are currently in quarantine after entering Laos.
On September 20, as many as 1,480 people entered the country at various border crossings.
So far, 19,730 Covid cases have been recorded in total, of whom 16 people have died after contracting the virus, while 4,596 people are under observation or treatment at hospitals and other facilities.
As the outbreak is poised to escalate further, Dr Bounfeng called for everyone to strictly comply with the lockdown measures and avoid making non-essential trips.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK