Despite sharing a border with China, Laos (the Lao People’s Democratic Republic) has effectively handled COVID thus far. Laos has a population of over 7 million and has tested roughly 20,500 with only 19 cases coming back positive.
The first detected cases were registered on March 24th, and the last of the 19 cases was discharged as of June 9th. There have been no new cases since April 12th and no deaths overall.
After two separate Chinese travelers had visited Laos and returned to China and found to have been infected in January, Laos began suspending the issuance of visas to Chinese nationals and reducing its flights to China. There were no other confirmed cases until two months later. With China being the main market for Lao Airlines and the tourist trade also almost completely reliant on China, not many people were traveling in and out of the country, allowing for a full lockdown on March 29th.
With physical testing, social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine, and treatment, Laos was able to contain the virus as much as possible but, like most others, the country is suffering from a recession as a result of the virus. The Lao government has been working with the World Bank to evaluate the economic impact of the pandemic.
Author: Camryn Thomas
Elizabeth Havice, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, has a new “Rapid Response” piece out in the academic journal Agriculture and Human Values about “Industrial Seafood Systems in the Immobilizing COVID-19 Moment.” Along with colleagues from University of Ottowa and York University (Canada), she writes about the dilemmas that an inherently international business supply chain (industrial fishing and seafood processes in Southeast Asia) faces when cross-border mobility is so constrained:
Immobilization is a key tool for containing COVID-19. Yet, mobility is a hallmark of industrial seafood systems that are an important source of food security and employment around the world. For example, tuna might be caught through the labor of Indonesian workers on Taiwanese flagged vessels that fish throughout Solomon Islands’ and Papua New Guinea’s waters; and it might be processed and canned by Myanmar workers in processing plants in Thailand, before being sold in major supermarkets globally. So what then comes of industrial seafood systems, including the workers in them, when managing the spread COVID-19 focuses on restricting mobilities? …
Industrial seafood systems are organized around continuous flow of product through global value chains (Campling and Havice 2018). COVID-19 has accelerated some flows and introduced chokepoints for others.
Find the full article – along with many other open-access pieces on food systems and COVID-19 – on the website of Agriculture and Human Values here. Read more about Prof. Havice’s work here.
The government of Malaysia, relatively new after a realignment in parliament led to a surprise and controversial new administration at the end of February 2020, has moved to crack down on migrant workers—claiming this is part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, May 1, 2020, the Malaysian government office overseeing immigration conducted raids in areas of Kuala Lumpur with many migrant workers (story in the leading Malaysian government-aligned paper, New Straits Times), rounding up those claimed to be in the country illegally and laying the groundwork to expel them. Many have criticized the way these operations were conducted (story from the BBC), including an observer from Human Rights Watch who said they herding of large groups in close quarters was likely to increase the spread of the virus, not contain it, and Malaysian NGOs that say this will create a culture of fear (story from the online media outlet with old ties to the opposition MalaysiaKini). The government’s explanation (again from the New Straits Times) is that migrant workers would be hard to track and control if they became vectors of infection, so the government must act preemptively. The government is also saying (MalaysiaKini) that those migrants whose paperwork is not in order may leave without any penalties—as long as they get out of Malaysia.
This story has some resonances of the recent second wave of infections in Singapore, which centered on (legal) migrant workers with few health protections living in crowded dormitories (story from Bloomberg). It seems non-citizens are particularly vulnerable at this time because they do not receive health support from the governments in the places where they live, and this is more acute for low-income laborers.
Malaysia has been living under a Movement Control Order (basically, shelter-in-place orders) since March 18, 2020, but the Prime Minister has announced these will be loosened effective May 4 (story from Singapore’s state-backed paper, Straits Times). It is unclear how the round-up of migrant workers may be connected to loosening restrictions as Malaysia hopes to begin opening the economy.
Author: Kevin W. Fogg