Lao authorities have placed the northwestern Bokeo province’s Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, a casino entertainment district that caters mainly to Chinese tourists, under a two-week lockdown after a Chinese worker tested positive for the coronavirus, officials told RFA’s Lao Service.
The January 12-25 lockdown of the Golden Triangle SEZ also affects the Bokeo municipality of Tonpheung and has been accompanied the testing of 305 workers in the SEZ, Tonpheung official said.
“We temporarily shut down these two places until the 25th of January. After that date, the provincial governor will notify us whether the lockdown would continue. For now, all entertainment venues such as karaoke bars in Tonpheung and the SEZ are closed,” a Bokeo province official told RFA.
“We’re closed because we suspect that the Covid-19 is spreading. We have been testing — so far, all tests have been negative,” said a health worker from Bokeo province.
Laos has recorded 41 cases of Covid-19, with no deaths, but weak border controls have left the country vulnerable to those who sneak in to work or to patronize the casinos of the Bokeo SEZ.
The shutdown was imposed after a Chinese worker in the Golden Triangle SEZ was seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident earlier this week, and tested positive for Covid-19 when he received treatment for his injuries in China.
“The Chinese authorities notified us that the man had tested positive for Covid-19. We’re now taking action, collecting samples from 305 workers in the SEZ. So far, all samples tested have been negative,” said a member of the Taskforce Committee for Covid-19 Control and Prevention of Bokeo province.
“We’re closed and we’re complying with the order. We’re afraid of the pandemic because there are many Chinese in this area.”
Khamphanha Phimpannha, deputy governor of Bokeo province, issued a statement Thursday saying that the infected Chinese man, 26, was known to have traveled to the eastern Myanmar border town of Tachileik.
An employee of the Golden Triangle SEZ confirmed the lockdown, telling RFA: “All borders are sealed, and boats are not allowed to cross the Mekong River.”
“We’re afraid because Laos’ healthcare system is not good and modern; we have to take precautions,” said the SEZ employee.
The zone where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet is described by critics as virtually a Chinese colony, with the casino, hotels and restaurants catering mainly to tourists from China and operating largely outside the reach of Lao law.
Local residents near the SEZ told RFA they were frightened.
“We’re very scared of Covid-19 and we’re waiting for a vaccine. All borders with Myanmar and Thailand are closed.” said one resident of Tonpheung, a district of 35,000 people.
“We’re all afraid. We have to wear masks when going out, wash hands and keep distance between one another.” Said another resident.
Bokeo provincial authorities, including police officers and health workers, are running check points at the gate leading into the town and at the jungle city’s main intersection, to scan and take the temperature of passers-by.
In Luang Namtha province neighboring Bokeo Province and China, authorities are also taking precautions against illegal crossings by Chinese.
“Last week, we arrested 10 Chinese who sneaked in through the porous border. We tested then deported them,” Luang Namtha provincial official told RFA Thursday.
In 2020, Laos has detained and deported hundreds of Chinese nationals for illegally entering the country to sidestep a mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine period and head straight to casinos to gamble or work, sources in the country told RFA.
Most of the illegal border crossers are tourists bound for casinos in northwestern Bokeo province’s Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Paul Eckert.