Lao Workers Return From Thailand, Bringing COVID-19 With Them

Lao migrant workers are coming home in large numbers from Thailand but are bringing COVID-19 with them, driving up new infections in Laos, which has recently seen a drop in the number of domestic cases, Lao sources say.

Up to 246,757 Lao workers have returned from Thailand since the pandemic began, with around 150,000 coming back in 2020 and their numbers now increasing day by day, Lao and Thai labor officials confirmed in a virtual meeting held on July 9.

Around 893 returned to Laos on July 11, Sisavath Southanilaxay—Deputy Director General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control—told a news conference that day, while an official in southern Laos’ Champassak province said on July 8 that around 200 workers had crossed each day into his province in the last five days.

Many of those returning home are bringing COVID-19 with them, accounting for large increases in the numbers of new cases reported in Laos, Sisavath Southanilaxay told reporters in a second conference on July 12.

“On Saturday, there were 93 new COVID-19 cases in Laos, with 91 of these imported from Thailand. On Sunday, there were 86 new cases, of which 81 were imported. And on Monday, there were 106 new cases, of which 104 were imported,” Sisavath said.

A Lao health worker in the capital Vientiane confirmed the trend. “There has been almost no infection in our community at all, so most of these new cases are imported, and are coming from Thailand to Savannakhet and Champassak provinces in the south,” he said.

“The actual number of COVID-19 infections in Laos is getting lower,” agreed a member of the Lao National Taskforce for COVID-19 Control and Prevention, “but the number of imported cases is rising.”

Unmonitored movements across the border with Thailand are now a particular concern, the taskforce official said.

“We’re concerned about the illegal crossings of Lao workers from Thailand, with many of them sneaking in by small boat across the Mekong River,” he added.

“We’re campaigning against illegal entry and are patrolling the border with Thailand around the clock,” the official said.

To handle the growing numbers of workers coming home, officials in Savannakhet have converted the provincial stadium to a quarantine center housing more than a thousand people, while the governor of Champassak is in talks with the central government to expand the provincial quarantine center and hospital, sources in the provinces said.

“The governor is proposing that we use the Southern Finance College as a new quarantine center,” one official in Champassak said, adding, “We also want to disperse the returnees to other provinces.”

“Another problem is the shortage of food, so for now we’re asking parents and families to provide food for their relatives who have returned,” he said.

Hoping to return

Lao workers still in Thailand say they hope to return home soon, and are asking for help from their embassy in the Thai capital Bangkok to bring them back.

“I’ve been infected for several days now, but there are no beds available here in Bangkok,” one 20-year-old Lao worker told RFA on July 12. “I’m having more symptoms like coughing and difficulty breathing, but I’m here illegally. I only have my passport, but no visa or permit to work.”

“I want to go home to Laos where I can be treated right away,” he said.

“The COVID-19 situation in Thailand is getting more critical, and a lockdown has been in place since July 12,” another Lao worker in Thailand said.

“We Lao workers have been laid off and are being quarantined in workers’ camps, and the chances of us getting tested and getting a bed at a hospital are slimmer here than in Laos.”

“If we stay here in Thailand, we have no job and no income, and we have to pay for our rent and our food,” he said. “So it’s better for us to go home.”

“I think the Lao embassy in Bangkok should be helping us to go back home to Laos because there is no treatment at all here in Thailand and because there are almost 9,000 new cases here every day,” another Lao worker said.

Told to stay home

Also speaking to RFA, other Lao workers living in Bangkok described shortages of hospital beds and lack of access to treatment facilities, with one woman saying she and her family, all of them infected, had been told by authorities to remain in their home.

“They said that no beds were available and told us to stay in separate rooms in our apartment and take care of ourselves,” the woman, who had worked as a cloth vendor in a Bangkok market, said. “We’re taking medicine provided by the health care workers who sometimes call to check up on us.”

“We understand the situation. There are no beds available now even for Thai citizens,” she said.

Another Lao worker, a housekeeper at a plastics factory working legally in Thailand, said she is now quarantined in her room.

“I’m covered by the Thai social security system, and I’ve been tested at a hospital. I’m now waiting for the result, which should come in about three to five days. I have no headache or fever, only a little coughing and a sore throat,” she said.

A Lao man working in a Bangkok suburb said that many Lao living in the country have urged their embassy in Bangkok to set up an aid center to help Lao workers, “especially those who are sick, illegal, undocumented, or don’t know what to do.”

“A Lao woman died in Bangkok last month after being infected for days with COVID-19 and not being treated in time,” he said.

“There is infection everywhere, and we can’t tell foreigners or Thais when or where beds might be made available,” a Thai health worker explained, adding that beds in private hospitals are sometimes available, but only for the “rich and famous.”

“It’s overwhelming. We can’t treat everyone who’s sick. There are just too many of them,” he said.

Calls seeking comment from the Lao Embassy in Bangkok rang unanswered this week.

Source: Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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