Coronavirus News Asia

China’s Belt and Road keeps steaming ahead in Laos


Under fire for bullying neighbors in the South China Sea, China is patting itself on the back for the progress it is making on the 411-kilometer China-Laos railway through a sparsely populated nation that has barely been touched by the Covid-19 pandemic.   

The official Xinhua News Agency reported on April 25 that all the beams are now in place for the 1,458-meter Luang Prabang cross-Mekong super-bridge, one of the biggest undertakings on a track that includes 169 other bridges and 72 mountain-blasting tunnels.

Construction resumed on the signature Belt and Road project only 23 days after Vientiane’s communist government closed its borders on April 1 with China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in response to the discovery of its eighth Covid-19 case.

Although there is skepticism about the official figures, landlocked Laos still has only 19 confirmed coronavirus infections among its 7.3 million people, less than any of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) states, ahead of Cambodia (122), Myanmar (178) and Vietnam (288).

Only last week, the government announced that nine patients who had recovered from the virus were being recalled to hospital to undergo follow-up tests in a bid to calm public concerns.

Short of a cover-up, the only explanation for the small number of cases lies in Laos’ sparse population, few major urban centers and bare-bones public transportation. Vientiane, the capital and biggest city, has only a million people.

A woman wearing a face mask amid concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus waits to cross the street in front of a poster for the Disney film “Mulan” in Vientiane on March 11, 2020. Photo: AFP/ Mladen Antonov

Foreign health experts point to the same apparent mitigating factors in neighboring Cambodia, coupled with the fact that hugging, cheek kissing and hand shaking are not part of either culture.

World Health Organization (WHO) figures seem to speak for themselves: With a total of 56,981 confirmed cases and 1,848 deaths, the ASEAN nationsand their collective 620 million population have less victims than 14 individual countries around the globe.


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