Vientiane Capital| 10 April 2020 – The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected people around the world, changing the way we live, work, and go about our daily activities. In Lao PDR, a nation-wide lockdown and physical distancing (also known as social distancing) have changed the most important event in the Lao calendar.
Credit: LAOS WHO / Love your family, love Laos, stay at home
Lao New Year, or Pi Mai as most people here call it, is the most important social and religious event of the year for most Lao people. In a normal year, people travel back to their home villages for family reunions, organize large parties with lots of singing and dancing and go to temples to wash Buddha images. This year Pi Mai, which takes place on 13-15 April and marks the transition to Buddhist year 2563, will be very different.
On 30 March, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith issued an Executive Order intensifying public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. From 1-19 April, everyone other than essential workers must stay at home. People are not allowed to travel between provinces. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. And an official letter from the Central Buddhist Fellowship of Lao PDR issued on 7 April makes clear that all temples will be closed to the public. Other than small gatherings of family members living in the same household, none of the usual Pi Mai activities are possible.
Dr Howard SOBEL, Acting WHO Representative to Lao PDR said “Cancelling the usual festivities and ceremonies around Pi Mai was a tough decision for the Lao government to make. I think, though, that it was the right decision. It means we have a chance of starting the new Lao year with a chance of controlling the spread of COVID-19”.
As of today, there are have been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lao PDR. All these cases are linked to travel or known chains of transmission. Tens of thousands of Lao migrant workers have returned to the country since late March. All have been required to either self-quarantine at home or be quarantined in temporary facilities set up by local authorities. Schools, universities and most businesses have been closed since March. Physical distancing (also known as social distancing) has been central to Lao PDR’s strategy for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The virus that causes the disease can infect people within 2 meters of someone with COVID-19. A significant minority of people with COVID-19 do not develop symptoms.
Lao social media influencers are supporting the call for people to stay and home and not organize big parties over the Pi Mai holiday. They are using the hashtags #PiMaiAtHome #ປີໃໝ່ຢູ່ເຮືອນ! They are also using #PiMaiAtHome frames around their social media profile and encouraging people to post photos and video clips showing them at home and healthy over Pi Mai.
For more on COVID-19 and how to prevent it see: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
For information on how WHO Country Office in Lao PDR is supporting the Lao Ministry of Health in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic see: https://www.who.int/laos/news/detail/06-04-2020-who-and-international-partners-act-to-support-lao-pdr-response-to-covid-19