Sittwe placed under curfew, lockdown amid fears of a sharp jump in Covid-19 cases

Authorities have imposed a stay-at-home order and nighttime curfew on the Rakhine capital of Sittwe and warned that the area faces a second wave of Covid-19 cases that could be hard to control. 

Officials have reported 29 new cases in the state since August 16, nine of which were locally transmitted.

Almost all of the cases, 28, were found in Sittwe but one was reported in Mrauk-U on Friday morning.

While Myanmar has so far avoided a large-scale outbreak, experts fear the country could be on the verge of a sudden spike in cases.  

The new cases have more than doubled Rakhine’s total number of reported infections, bringing the total to 45 since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March.

Sittwe’s General Administration Department has issued a curfew order banning people from going outside between 9pm and 4am, which will be enforced from Friday until October 21.

Anyone who goes outside during the day without wearing a mask also risks a 1,000 kyat fine, according to the order.

Those infected include vendors, staff from banks, government offices, and INGOs. They and their families are now under quarantine while the wards where they live have been locked down.

Rakhine state government spokesperson Win Myint said the cabinet office held an emergency meeting to discuss a lockdown of roads where confirmed patients lived, and to fine people not wearing masks.

“We announced that civilians need to wear a mask every time they go out, and to stay put inside if there’s no need to leave,” he said. “We’ll start arresting people who don’t follow these rules and fine them,” he said.

He added that swab samples from Rakhine’s chief minister Nyi Pu and another minister have been taken for testing, even though they have not been in contact with a confirmed patient.

“They didn’t have direct contact with the patient but they came in and out of the meeting room [where the patient had been],” he said.

More than 150 people in Sittwe are under quarantine and being closely monitored to ensure they don’t break the rules. 

The newly confirmed patients include a doctor from Sittwe hospital and a woman from the general administration office of the local government.

As of August 21 Myanmar has recorded 419 Covid-19 cases and six deaths, Ministry of Health and Sports data shows. 

Volunteers in Sittwe take the temperatures of passersby and distribute masks on August 20 (Photo: Myanmar Now)

Prof. Dr Zaw Than Htun, director general of the Medical Science Department under the health ministry, warned that Myanmar could be hit by the new, faster spreading strain of the coronavirus. 

“If the rate of spread jumps from one or two cases a day to a hundred, it can be understood as a wave,” he said. 

“It is not yet a wave but it is very possible. There are many examples in other countries of such second waves as proof,” he added.

Over 400 high schools in Rakhine state have been ordered to close from Friday.

“Normally, such temporary closure of the schools would last 14 to 21 days,” said Htun Myint Thein, the owner of Htet Myat Htun Private High School in Sittwe. “But, since the situation in Rakhine remains hard to guess, I don’t know how long it will last.”  

Hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine lack reliable and fast access to the internet, even after the government lifted an internet blackout in several townships earlier this year. 

And tens of thousands are living in crowded displacement camps after fleeing fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military. Tens of thousands more Rohingya are confined to open air camps after fleeing riots in 2012. 

Human rights groups have warned that Covid-19 could spread rapidly in the displacement camps. 

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