The Deputy Minister of Health Phouthone Meuangpak confirmed the first two Covid-19 cases in Laos at a press conference on 24 March at 14:00, after several Facebook posts began spreading the unconfirmed news earlier in the day.
At about 15:00, the Lao News Agency (KPL) published an article offering some details. The victims include a 36-year-old female tour guide, who had led a group of Europeans earlier in the month. The second is a 28-year-old male staff member at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Vientiane.
KPL reported that both were receiving medical treatment at a local hospital using international standards. As earlier reported by We Are Lao, the Lao government has been taking a number of steps to deal with cases and mitigate any potential outbreak.
KPL also stated the male is believed to have contracted the virus while attending a workshop in Bangkok, Thailand.
Reuters quickly picked up the story, and began spreading it on their newswire. However, they did not mention the hotel by name, and at 16:00, We Are Lao reached out to the Crowne Plaza to confirm the report and ask for more details. The hotel has yet to respond.
Xinhua News Agency in China broke the news at 16:10, and provided more details. “The infected female tourist guide went to Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Cambodia before showing Covid-19 flu-like symptoms.”
They also reported that the two cases are not serious, their treatments are working, and their close contacts have been quarantined.
Director-General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control, Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, said anyone suspected by medical personnel of carrying COVID-19 will be tested free of charge. Others can be tested, but have to pay.
In the evening, the Crowne Plaza released a brief statement on Facebook confirming their employee had contracted the virus, and it offered a general overview of the steps the hotels has been taking. The statement did not say if their measures are as strict as their sister hotel, the Crowne Plaza Dublin-Blanchardstown.
At 22:00, the Laotian Times offered more information on the ongoing story. They reported that the Crowne staffer returned to Laos from Bangkok on 9 March, but did not start showing symptoms until 23 March.
The female patient began showing Covid-19 symptoms on 10 March, but was not found to have the virus, and returned to “a hotel”. However, she began feeling worse and returned to the hospital and tested positive.
They also reported that Vice Minister Phouthone said. “Lao health authorities are being assisted by WHO experts as well as coordinating closely with our counterparts in China, who have first-hand experience in defending against Covid-19 and treating infections.”
Meanwhile, other tourism stakeholders are taking proactive measures such as closing their offices while continuing to develop new itineraries, or locking their businesses’ doors and selling handicrafts online or delivering meals. Many businesses and hotels have simply closed, and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry is now doing a survey to uncover exactly which ones.
Written by: Bernie Rosenbloom
Source: We Are Lao