Coronavirus likely to cause major disruption in tourism, investment

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Laos is expecting a shortfall in the number of tourists during this year’s peak season after China temporarily halted all group tours to other countries.

The move came in the wake of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan and its rapid spread across China.

An independent economist, Dr Mana Southichack, told Vientiane Times on Wednesday the Lao tourism sector would be heavily impacted.

“Of course, we are currently receiving tourists from all over the world, mainly from Asia, Europe and America, but in recent years the number of Chinese visitors has surpassed those from all other countries except Thailand,” he said, noting that a short-term impact on the tourism industry was unavoidable.

However, the long-term effect on the economy, especially in tourism, was unpredictable because it depends how long the coronavirus epidemic continues and how severe it becomes.

“The investment sector will also be affected to some extent because businesspeople may encounter difficulties when they need to travel,” he said, adding that it was a challenge for the government to tackle this situation.

Dr Mana said he was confident in the government’s plans to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus in coordination with the international community.

“To my understanding, the government may have set up a quarantine centre to assess people who travelled to China, over a period of 14 days, before they are allowed to return home,” he said.

In response to the outbreak, the government has established a task force committee under a prime ministerial decision, which will take immediate action to prevent the virus from spreading into Laos at all points of entry.

At the first meeting of the committee on Monday, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith advised members to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus through the tightening of screening and quarantine measures.

The government has also advised the public to be cautious when reading posts about the virus on social media as they might contain misinformation or hoaxes that could cause panic. 

So far, no case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in Laos. The Ministry of Health has requested people who have travelled to outbreak areas to contact health officials on entry into Laos.