Laos Mask Mandate Still Unclear

Waiting to board the Laos-China Railway
Waiting to board the Laos-China Railway (Photo: Teng)

Despite fully reopening to tourists in May, Laos has yet to fine-tune its mask mandate. The unchanged official stance on masks could be unwittingly deterring tourists.

Prior to the country’s reopening announcement, Government Spokesperson and Vice Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, Madame Thippakone Chanthavongsa, made an announcement in February confirming new quarantine measures.

The requirement to wear a mask in public, as well as other Covid-19 prevention measures,  was to be strictly followed.

Fast forward to the full reopening announcement in May, and the focus moved almost entirely to the reopening of borders and regulations allowing vaccinated arrivals to enter the country.

Testing requirements and quarantine were done away with, yet regulations mandating masks were not repealed: but nor were they ever really mentioned again.

The reality on the ground is vastly different to official regulations, with mask-wearing disappearing among the populace almost overnight following the reopening announcement.

However, travel advice from embassies and foreign news media have (through no fault of their own) continued to report on Laos as one of a small number of countries with a full mask mandate in place.

Thai tourists participate in a morning almsgiving ceremony in Luang Prabang (Photo - Ven. Bounhao Panyasouk)
Thai tourists participate in a morning almsgiving ceremony in Luang Prabang (Photo – Ven. Bounhao Panyasouk)

According to a recent Nikkei Asia report, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, and Vietnam are the only countries in Southeast Asia that still require fully vaccinated tourists to wear masks.

And the Ministry of Health, through its Centre of Information and Education for Health has this week issued a recommendation in Lao language that masks should be worn at locations including banks, markets, and entertainment venues.

But many in the tourism industry view the unclear mask mandate as bad for business.

One tourism operator in Laos told the Laotian Times that a perceived strict mask mandate could be affecting tourism.

“Laos has already fully reopened and has agreed not to test or quarantine vaccinated arrivals. And the reality on the ground is that most people have stopped wearing masks because the fear of Covid is gone,” he said.

“We should have clearer regulations that reflect this fact so that we are not scaring away tourists who mistakenly believe that a strict mask mandate is in force.”

Cambodia dropped its mask mandate for tourism sites in April, with Prime Minister Hun Sen saying the mandate would only be reinstated if large-scale transmission of Covid-19 were to happen again.

Thailand scrapped its mask mandate last month, making masks completely voluntary nationwide, while Vietnam’s regulations clearly state that masks should be worn in public and crowded places only.

“Laos must quickly and clearly update its mask mandate to reflect the reality of the situation,” the tourism operator added.

Written with assistance from Cameron Darke.