Coronavirus cases hit double digits in Myanmar

Two men in their mid-40s have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing Myanmar’s number of confirmed infections to 10, the health ministry announced late Sunday night.

The first, a 44-year-old Myanmar man had just returned from Thailand via a border crossing in Myawaddy, in Kayin state, on March 23. 

He stayed in Myawaddy for two days then left on a Yangon-bound bus on March 25, arriving the following day in Mingalardon township, in northern Yangon, according to the ministry. 

He was admitted that day to Pale Myothit Hospital in Mingalardon and immediately quarantined because he had a cough and showed oher signs of illness, the statement said. 

The ministry said it will transfer him to the Waibargi Specialist Hospital in Yangon, where regional Covid-19 cases are being treated. 

He was one of the tens of thousands of migrant workers who began making their way home from Thailand this past week, flooding border crossings in Myawaddy and Tachileik, in Shan state, after Thailand announced widespread lockdowns and travel bans. 

Thailand has so far reported over 1,500 cases, 229 recoveries and seven deaths. 

The ministry warned on Sunday that Myanmar  is at risk of “a major outbreak” as roughly 23,000 migrants return from the neighbouring country. 

The government is demanding all returnees quarantine for 14 days upon arrival but, with limited sites available, only those with flu-like symptoms are being placed in government hospitals and quarantine facilities. Others are being asked to self-quarantine at home or at community centres.

Local administrators have raised concerns that most returnees lack private rooms at their homes and won’t be able to self-quarantine without risking spreading an infection to others in their homes.

On March 23, leaders of Myanmar’s Muslim community offered up mosques, madrassas and other sites owned by several Islamic organisations to be used as makeshift hospitals and quarantine sites. 

The government has not yet responded to the offer, according to the Islamic Religious Affairs Council in Myanmar.

Township authorities issued orders last week that anyone who travelled to or returned from a foreign country within the past 14 days report to the nearest government health facility for an inspection. Violators are subject to sentences between six months and a year in prison.

Separately, the 45-year-old son of a man who was previously diagnosed with Covid-19 has also tested positive, Pho Myay ward administrator Zaw Win Tun told Myanmar Now on Monday.

He has been in quarantine at the Waibargi Specialist Hospital since Saturday. 

The father, a 69-year-old Myanmar citizen, tested positive after returning to Yangon on March 14 from Australia, where he was receiving treatment for nasal cancer. He spent four days in Singapore between flights from Australia and to Myanmar. 

After developing a fever, cough and sore throat in Yangon, he was admitted to an intensive care unit at Yangon General Hospital on March 18.

His son’s is the second locally-transmitted case of the disease so far recorded in Myanmar, in what is likely the country’s first identified coronavirus cluster.

The first local transmission was a 60-year-old female tour guide who had not travelled overseas prior to her diagnosis but had travelled domestically with French tourists. 

She was admitted to Yangon General Hospital on March 26 with symptoms that included vomiting and cough. She tested positive the next day. 

Health minister Myint Htwe said at a Saturday meeting on the containment and prevention of the disease that the government has tracked over 470 individuals who had been in close physical contact with the eight then-confirmed cases, and that it is arranging to have them all quarantined.

Myint Htwe said the government is buying more test kits but did not specify where the kits will be manufactured or from whom it will buy them. 

The government will also open a second testing facility at a Mandalay lab to increase capacity, he added. 

The National Health Laboratory is currently the sole lab capable of testing for the new virus in Myanmar. 

The country had only tested some 430 individuals as of Monday morning, in a country of about 54 million. 

Myanmar shares a porous, 1,400-mile border with China, where the virus was first reported.

Prior to the pandemic, Chinese Eastern Airlines ran direct flights from Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province – the initial epicentre of the outbreak – to Mandalay twice a week and to Yangon once a week. Flights were suspended in late January.

Additional reporting by Chan Thar. 


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