In 2020, Laos successfully contained the spread of COVID-19, with very few cases and no deaths. The key elements of the COVID-19 response reflect not only public health advice but also the core values of the political culture promoted by the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. These include unity, solidarity, struggle, respect for science, guidance by a strong center, and the extension of the state into everyday life in the form of designated roles, committees, and organizations. These significantly shaped the social fabric drawn on in the COVID-19 response. This success, then, can be read as a reaping of some of the benefits of this political culture. More ominously, the global pandemic exacerbated Lao PDR’s public debt crisis. Born of years of government backing of megaprojects such as hydropower, this debt is the dark harvest of the LPRP’s reign.
Climate disruptions highlighted factors likely to shape the contours of climate change in Laos. Among these, regional relationships and resource-driven development continued to be important, as did inequality within Laos. Popular dissatisfaction with the capacity of the Lao state continued, exacerbated by environmental disasters and continuing limitations on free speech.