The National University of Laos: Response to COVID-19

By Tun Pa Pa Kyaw, AUN Intern
September 2020

The COVID-19 is a worldwide pandemic that has affected many countries in a short period of time. Laos, a Southeast Asian country, is reported to be the last country in ASEAN to confirm its first case in late March 2020. The country was in a vulnerable position as it shares borders with 5 neighbouring countries and the majority of the travellers were from foreign countries with reported COVID-19 cases. Nonetheless, the government of Lao focused on preventive and responsive measures, including the preparation for possible COVID-19 cases in many areas. Since the beginning of January 2020, the Lao government has taken various preventive and response measures against COVID-19.

One of the initial preventive measures in response to COVID-19 taken by the Lao government includes the closing of all “local” and “customary” border checkpoints across the country. In addition, the government suspended the issuance of all kinds of visas on arrival, including Education visas and tourist visas for all nationals for the duration of 30 days. Public gathering places such as entertainment businesses, karaoke, and services were all closed. The government also took measures on the people travelling from a country with an outbreak to self- quarantine for at least 14 days. Moreover, all nurseries, pre-schools, primary schools and all educational institutions (public and private) across the country until further notice. In order to provide appropriate responses and public information to prevent the spread of the virus in Lao, the government expanded the powers of the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, a special task force was established on 3 February 2020.

Together with the Lao government’s measures taken for COVID-19, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) also started the Lao education COVID-19 response plan which covers different education levels, including universities, vocational and technical colleges. This Education COVID-19 Response Plan was developed by the Ministry of Education and Sports with the support of UNICEF and in collaboration with the Education Cluster. The objectives of this response plan are to ensure the well-being of learners and education staff, to continue learning through the implementation of diverse learning activities, to support the safe return to educational institutions, and to ensure a coordinated government response to COVID-19 control measures for the education sector along with other sectors.

In conjunction with the government and MOES’s guidance and plan, the universities in Laos responded with their internal measures. The National University of Laos (NUOL) holds the status as the country’s main and largest public university with a big number of foreign students, both inbound and outbound students. Physical distancing, hygiene, cleaning, and the use of personal protective equipment are some basic practices the NUOL refers to prevent COVID-19 on the campus. The NUOL also formed a COVID-19 taskforce team to work on prevention and control of COVID-19 within the university in response to the MOES’s plan. This response team is mostly responsible for the coordination and reporting to the government. Since the start of the global pandemic and until now, the university also has been taking its specific preventive measures and keeping its normal practices in academic and administrative moves, at the same time effectively practising physical distancing.

After the Lao government declared lockdown and travel restriction, the initial broad measures adopted by the academic community were working from home and teaching online. The NUOL undertaking its internal measures in line with the government guidance implemented by the MOES was due to the fact that the NUOL is the only higher institution in the country with the largest number of inbound and outbound students. This required the university to provide comprehensive information for every student, especially for the current international students studying at the NUOL. At present, the NUOL has two levels of COVID-19 response operation known as “University’s Monitoring Committee” which is a faculty level (comprised of faculties, institutions, centres and offices), and “University’s taskforce team” is to implement the NUOL’s preventive measures.

According to the NUOL’s official announcement, students and staff members who have been to countries that are at risk of COVID-19 are obligated to screen and monitor for COVID-19 from the date of arrival by referring to the government's guidance on state and self-quarantine. With the note of the announcement by the President of the National University of Laos, any activities that involve a large number of people gathering inside and outside of the university to be cancelled or postponed by the university’s task force team.