Villagers in Southern Laos Cope With Food Shortages Amid COVID Lockdowns

Many villagers in southern Lao provinces say they are short of food and other essentials due to prolonged and strict government-ordered coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, preventing people from working and closing most markets and stores.

The impoverished, landlocked country of 7.4 million people saw a spike in outbreaks beginning in April after managing to nearly evade infections for a year. As of Thursday, Laos recorded total 18,059 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 154 new ones, though the number of related fatalities held at 16.

The office of Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh on Wednesday urged all southern provinces to strictly enforce COVID-19 prevention measures until the end of the month.

A villager from Tha Khek district in Kham Mouane province, which is under lockdown from Sept. 14-17, told RFA that dry goods, such as noodles, canned sardines, and rice are nearly gone, while fresh meat and vegetables are no longer available since markets are closed.

“My village right now is still under lockdown and people are not allowed to go out,” she said. “The markets are closed, so there is no buying or selling of anything.”

Police and soldiers are patrolling the area to ensure that no one goes out unless they have permission, she added. If they find any violators, they will fine and warn them the first time, but jail them for a second offense.

A resident of a village in Savannakhet province said that not only are markets being shut down, individual vendors also have had to stop selling food on the street.

“We’ve been eating whatever dry food we have for three meals a day for one month,” she said.

A villager from Saravane province, which is on lock down from Sept. 14-28, said that the past week has been difficult for many people, with all the fresh food markets closed in Saravane city. Authorities have allowed one market to operate to relive the food shortage.

“When we’re under the lockdown, people can’t go in and out, but on Sept. 15, they opened one market to provide relief,” he said, adding that a truck was reportedly transporting rice from Pakse in neighboring Champassak province.

The decision to open one of the city’s three large markets was made so residents would have enough food during the lockdown, said an official at the provincial department of industry and commerce.

Merchants need to obtain permission from provincial officials to transport fresh food within the province, he added.

Those who sell dry goods, such as rice, are not allowed in yet, and violators will be fined 100,000 to 10 million kip (U.S. $10-1,025), he said.

An official at Kham Mouane Province Department of Industry and Commerce said that before authorities there announced the 15-day lockdown and the closure of all markets, they had notified villagers to stock up on food.

“They are all closed at this time — food stores and markets,” he said. “Even trucks that transport goods from outside have been told to temporarily postpone deliveries. The province notified the public before the lockdown that they should buy food to store.”

Reported by RFA Lao Service, Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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