Thingyan celebrations cancelled after WHO declares coronavirus a pandemic

The government has banned large gatherings for this year’s Thingyan festival as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, deputy information minister Aung Hla Tun said.

The decision followed an emergency meeting led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw on Thursday, a day after the World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic.

“The meeting decided to take aggressive measures until the end of April, as well as to educate the public to live with health awareness,” Aung Hla Tun wrote on his Facebook page.

The ban means no event stages, known as pandals, and large gatherings of revellers getting drenched during the water festival, which was due to take place from April 13-17.

It is unclear if authorities will enforce stricter measures to prevent crowds gathering of their own accord. Relevant government departments will announce other measures soon to prevent the spread of the disease, Aung Hla Tun said.

The President’s Office said in a statement on Friday that the ban on large gatherings could be extended beyond April 30, “if necessary”.

The virus has spread to more than 100 countries and killed 4,925 people.

Myanmar along with Laos, Brunei and Timor Leste, has not confirmed a Covid-19 case since the disease broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December – but only a few dozen people have been tested.

The Ministry of Health and Sports says there are so far two suspected cases while 97 people have tested negative for the virus and seven patients are awaiting lab results.

Several private organisations have announced plans to cancel or postpone their activities in response to the government’s announcement.

Forever Group, which broadcasts MRTV-4 and Channel7, announced March 12 the company had cancelled its Thingyan Festival 2020 event, which usually attracted big crowds and attention.

The Yangon Journalism School said the same day it would postpone its journalism courses for March and April until the disease is no longer a threat to public safety.

The Shwe Maw Daw pagoda festival in Bago – usually held in April – has been cancelled while the Shwe Set Taw pagoda festival in Magwe region, which has been running since January and was due to end mid-April, was shut down on Friday.

Fake voice clip appears to spark panic buying

Aung Hla Tun warned members of the public not to fall for fake news and rumours about coronavirus and said the government would take action against those trying to cause panic.

On Thursday a hoax voice message claiming Myanmar had confirmed its first case of coronavirus quickly spread on Facebook messenger.

In the clip, a man’s voice said Yangon General Hospital’s deputy medical superintendent had confirmed the case.

The hospital official, along with the Ministry of Health and Sports, tried to quash the fake rumour, but it apparently sparked a wave of panic buying at supermarkets and 24-hour marts, resulting in shortages of hand sanitizer and basic commodities like rice.

“We haven’t found any virus-infected patient yet, but we will immediately declare it once we have,” Aung Hla Tun wrote. “Please urge one another as much as you can to avoid crowded places and events.

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