Surge of new COVID-19 cases in Laos coincides with lockdown
08/22/2021 // Nolan Barton // Views

Laos recorded its highest number of new coronavirus (COVID-19) infections of 381 on Wednesday, Aug. 18, as the country scrambles to contain an alleged outbreak that has spilled over from neighboring Thailand, where a severe outbreak has reportedly been raging for months.

Interestingly, the spike in the number of new cases coincided with the lockdown imposed by Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith. The nationwide lockdown started on July 19 and was initially set to end on Aug. 2. It was extended by the government and was set to expire on Wednesday.

Along the way, the number of new infections steadily climbed. On the day the lockdown started, the seven-day rolling average of new infections was seven. As of Wednesday, the seven-day rolling average was 267.

Thipphakone Chanthavongsa, deputy head of the Prime Minister's Office, announced the extension of the lockdown on Aug. 2 as the country's National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control reported 237 new imported cases and 13 locally transmitted cases.

Among the imported cases, 78 were reported in the country's capital Vientiane, 63 in Savannakhet, 48 in Champasak, 30 in Khammuan, 16 in Saravan and two in Vientiane province.

Returning migrant workers trigger COVID-19 outbreak in Laos

The country's migrant workers returning from Thailand are believed to have triggered the outbreak, which has been worsened by the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant. (Related: Second wave of coronavirus reaches Singapore – majority of cases come from migrant worker communities.)


Nearly a quarter-million Laotian migrant workers have returned from Thailand since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures. Many returned in the past few weeks following a comprehensive and prolonged lockdown in Thailand that shut down numerous workplaces.

Officials estimated that as many as 30 percent of the latest returnees were infected with the virus.

A lot of migrant workers have evaded official crossings by passing through porous borders illegally, which made health screening procedures between the two countries more complicated.

Large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19 could prove disastrous for Laos, where modern healthcare provision is still in its early stages, especially across the rural areas. Those living in remote villages, including many minority Christians, lack access to modern medical treatment or even basic medical provisions.

"Laos has no facilities for major medical emergencies. The state-run hospitals and clinics are among the most basic in Southeast Asia in terms of the standards of hygiene, staff training, supplies and equipment," stated Pacific Prime, an international health insurance broker.

"Widespread poverty, lack of proper sanitation and water supply, malnutrition and poor health awareness contribute to the country's health problems."

Traditional medicines may be behind the low number of COVID-19 deaths in Laos

Laos is actually doing better than most countries in this pandemic so far with only nine deaths on record related to COVID-19. It may have something to do with the fact that traditional medicine remains widespread in the country.

In an address to the National Assembly in Vientiane this week, Minister of Health Bounfeng Phommalaisith said a plant extract recommended by the Institute of Traditional Medicine was being piloted as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The plant extract could boost patients' immune systems and help them recover better, Bounfeng said.

In Thailand, some medical practitioners have also recommended using the extract of the green chiretta (Andrographis paniculata) – a herbaceous plant known locally as fah talai jone. Related: (Related: Thai government approves green chiretta herb as treatment for covid.)

"We are confident that fah talai jone can cure COVID-19 patients who have mild symptoms and are asymptomatic," said Dr. Kwanchai Wisitthanon, deputy director-general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine.

The herb extract is now being mass-produced in Thailand for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Researchers say herbal medicines may slow COVID transmission

Researchers in the United States and China have actually called for more research into the potential prophylactic effects of natural products and herbal medicines on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In an article published last year in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, the team discussed natural products that have exhibited an inhibitory effect on SARS-CoV-2 and herbal medicines that have been tested as potential therapies for COVID-19. The researchers suggested that the repurposing of natural products and herbal medicines as prophylactics represents a promising approach to at least slow the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

They noted that natural products and herbal medicines have been used for the prevention of viral infections and generally show favorable efficacy and acceptable toxicity.

The team published a review summarizing some recent findings regarding the potential effectiveness of natural products and herbal medicines in the inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infection. "In the interest of public health, this will lend health officials better control on the current pandemic," the researchers wrote.

They discussed compounds derived from natural products that may be effective against the cellular receptor heat shock protein A5 (HSPA5).

Some studies have reported that HSPA5 is recognized by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and one 2020 study showed that the phytoestrogens daidzein, genistein, formononetin, and biochanin A have binding affinities with HSPA5. The researchers said these medicinal, plant-derived compounds may disrupt the attachment of SARS-CoV-2 to host cells, although their antiviral bioactivity requires further investigation.

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