Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime Minister of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, giving his addresses to the nation. With him are Health Minister, Dr Bounkong Syhavong (immediately to right of Prime Minister), Acting WHO Representative Dr Howard Sobel (immediately to the right of Health Minister) and members of the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19. Photo credit: KPL Lao News Agency
After more than 59 days with no new COVID-19 cases, and with the last patient discharged this week Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime Minister of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, addressed the nation to hail the success of the country in containing its first outbreak of COVID-19. He thanked international partners for their support but warned that the threat from COVID-19 is far from over. The Prime Minister was joined at his address to the nation by Health Minister, Dr Bounkong Syhavong, WHO Acting Representative Dr Howard Sobel and members of the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19.
In his address on 10 June, Prime Minister Thongloun praised the National Taskforce Committee for implementing rapid and effective control measures that stopped the COVID-19 outbreak. The Prime Minister praised the contribution and sacrifices of the public in observing restrictions on where they could go and what they could do. He also acknowledged the timely and effective support of different sectors of government sectors, international organization, and development partners in the battle against COVID-19. His 6 key conclusions as to what made this initial success possible were:
- The country anticipated the danger and started to prepare at an early stage. There is a saying in Laos, “Better be protected first” or an idiom “Stop the fire where it begins”. Thus, the government has made well-calculated measures for each phase;
- The highest levels of government have overseen the implementation of measures and have coordinated closely with each other;
- Every state organization, the government and all parts of society have been engaged in implementing the measures responsibly;
- The whole of our society has participated in the fight, with high level of self-awareness and self-control – while also providing mutual support through various forms of giving based on solidarity and generosity;
- The responsible sectors such as all levels of the National Taskforce Committee, media, the national security and defense forces, and especially healthcare professionals are the heroes in this battle for their commitment to their jobs;
- Lao PDR received effective and timely support from countries with friendly relations and international organizations.
Dr Howard Sobel, WHO Representative to Lao PDR, applauded the Lao government’s success in containing the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak:
“Lao PDR’s response to the its first outbreak of COVID-19 was exemplary. The government anticipated the arrival of this terrible disease and did all the right things to stop it spreading. This undoubtedly saved many lives. It has been an honour for WHO to work with the Ministry of Health and the National Task Force Committee during this difficult, but successful, time in Lao PDR. But, as the Prime Minister has said, this is only an initial success. COVID-19 is still spreading in many countries around the world. We must all continue to prepare for the next wave of infections here.”
The Prime Minister also warned the public against, saying:
“The situation we face now, and will face in the future, is still challenging. Lao PDR is still vulnerable in many ways and we cannot let down our guard. We all need to be even more vigilant and resolutely continue to act on orders, guidelines and notices. The government will follow up and assess events at every phase in order to effectively improve and adapt its planning taking account of the needs of society and the economy to resume operations as soon as possible. However, we must be decisive in preventing and controlling the threat we face.”
Prime Minister Thongloun called on each person, family, and organization to take this opportunity to adapt their lives. In other words, to live the ‘new normal’ by becoming more self-aware, adopting new practice and leading more disciplined lives to avoid a second COVID-19 outbreak.
WHO is working with the Lao Ministry of Health along with other Ministries and development partners, to further strengthen the country’s defences against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. This includes:
- Further developing rapid alert systems to detect possible outbreaks of respiratory diseases
- Expanding capacity across all provinces to trace and quarantine people who may have been exposed to COVID-19
- Training health workers in how to care for and treat people who may have COVID-19
- Expanding capacity of laboratories in Lao PDR to test for COVID-19
- Ensuring hygiene and infection control measures to prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 in health facilities, quarantine centers and international points of entry.
- Engage with communities, Mass Organizations and the Lao Buddhist Fellowship to reduce fear and stigma linked to COVID-19, restore demand for essential health services and rapidly identify future outbreaks of respiratory illness.
- Building up stocks of personal protective equipment
- Ensure the country and its health system build on their recent success and continue preparation for the next outbreak of COVID-19
Many development partners have been supporting this work by the Ministry of Health and WHO. These include Australia, China, Japan, the European Union, Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (USAID) and Viet Nam.