Bangkok (CNN)Authorities in Laos have reported a significant Covid-19 outbreak near the notorious Kings Romans casino, whose Chinese owner is accused by the United States of trafficking people, wildlife and drugs.
Covid-19 outbreak reported near Laos casino run by alleged crime boss
Officials said a cluster of cases in Tonpheung district was traced to people who illegally entered the area, ignoring lockdown rules, according to the Vientiane Times, a state-run English-language newspaper.
The paper also reported that a district task force accused locals of illegally bringing foreigners into Laos from neighboring Myanmar and Thailand.
Coronavirus cases have been spiking in landlocked Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia in recent weeks. A surge of cases that emerged in Laos' capital, Vientiane, was tied to festivities during the traditional religious new year holiday celebrated throughout Southeast Asia, in mid-April.
Laos' first official Covid-19-related death was reported Sunday. To date, authorities have identified at least 1,327 Covid-19 cases in the country, including 730 in Vientiane and 284 in Bokeo province, which is home to Tonpheung district and the Kings Romans casino. Of the nationwide cases, 1,088 are active.
Laos' borders have been officially closed since last year as part of the country's efforts to stop Covid-19 from spreading. However, sources told CNN that couriers continued to ferry people illegally into the country.
One former travel agent said, though crossings are officially suspended, people were illegally transporting a small number of tourists and Thai casino employees from Thailand across the Mekong River into Laos.
The agent, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive and illegal activity, said casino employees based in Thailand have stopped traveling to work and "won't come back until the Covid situation improves."
"They still want to keep their job at the casino," the agent said.
Another source told CNN bars and nightclubs next to the casino appeared open as recently as January, and were playing music loud enough that it could be heard in Chiang Rai province, across the Mekong River in Thailand. Neither country had major Covid-19 outbreaks at the time. Entertainment venues in Laos were ordered to close on April 12, according to the US Embassy in Laos.