Vientiane Residents Express Dissatisfaction with Lockdown Measures

Police stop a motorist during Vientiane lockdown

Residents in Vientiane Capital have expressed dissatisfaction with certain regulations under the snap lockdown that came into force on Sunday.

Under the new lockdown, which will remain in force until 30 September, residents of Vientiane Capital are prohibited from leaving their homes or traveling within the city except for essential tasks, such as shopping for food, purchasing medicine, or visiting hospitals.

Police increased checkpoints in Vientiane Capital yesterday to reduce traffic in the city after a failure among many residents to remain at home.

Meanwhile, in an effort to reduce crowding at shops and markets, the Department of Industry and Commerce ordered supermarkets and other retailers to close on Monday, with the unintended effect of causing further crowding as residents rushed to purchase household goods before the order came into effect.

Seemingly recognizing the problem, authorities quickly reversed their decision, issuing a new order yesterday allowing supermarkets and minimarts to reopen, this time imposing strict limitations on the number of shoppers and hours of operation.

But many residents remain dissatisfied with the way the lockdown has been carried out, saying a lack of planning and rushed closure of facilities has meant they have not had adequate time to prepare.

Local news media reported mass violations of the stay-at-home order yesterday as hundreds of vehicles took to the roads, prompting police to increase checkpoints across the city.

Roads blockaded during lockdown in Vientiane Capital
Roads blockaded during lockdown in Vientiane Capital.

“We do not want to break the government’s lockdown measures,” one man told the Laotian Times, “but we have no option because many businesses have remained open. If we don’t go to work our salaries will be cut and we won’t receive any assistance,” he said.

A retailer in Vientiane said that she is unable to close her shop as directed by authorities because she needs income to pay the loan she took out to buy a car. She says the finance company has no policy in place to assist borrowers during the lockdown period.

“What good is a strict lockdown if the government does not provide any basic assistance to us? Many of us have been having problems since the first Covid-19 outbreak and have been struggling ever since,” she said.

Addressing these issues, Lao Minister of Health, Dr. Bounfeng Phoummalaysith, said during an announcement yesterday that the benefits of the lockdown outweigh the costs.

“What we get out of the lockdown is a society that is safe from the unchecked spread of Covid-19,” said Dr. Bounfeng.

“The next step is to maintain the health, safety, and well-being of the people, as well as to reduce overcrowding in hospitals and reduce the burden on medical workers, quarantine centers, and the authorities,” he added.

While Laos has instituted some financial policies and tax breaks for certain businesses, the public has not been well informed about how they can access assistance or what types of assistance are available to them.

At the same time, state-run utilities such as electricity and water supply have not been discounted as they were during previous lockdown periods, causing difficulties for the most vulnerable.