Myanmar reports COVID-19 infections for first time

Photo: Maung Ne Lynn Aung
Photo: Maung Ne Lynn Aung

Myanmar reported for the first time last night coronavirus infections in two Burmese nationals, three months after the virus became a household name throughout the region. 

Ending weeks of insistence that Myanmar had somehow dodged the global pandemic roiling its neighbors, government spokesperson Zaw Htay said it had infected two men, aged 26 and 36 respectively, who had recently returned from abroad.

He said the older of the two attended a party in his Chin state community after returning from the United States before he was hospitalized with fever. Chin is considered the least-equipped state to face the virus due to its poverty. It also borders Rakhine state, where a large population of displaced Rohingya are living under conditions the United Nations has likened to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

Zaw Htay said the man’s community would be put on a lockdown and health screenings would be conducted in the surrounding areas. The second man, now under quarantine, was found positive after he landed Sunday in Yangon from the United Kingdom. The authorities said neither man was experiencing respiratory symptoms and were placed into isolation while their contacts are being traced.

Just hours after the news spread on social media, people were seen emptying shelves in supermarkets overnight. 

Just 10 days ago, government spokesperson Zaw Htay suggested the lifestyle and diet of the Burmese may be a reason the country hasn’t detected the coronavirus, despite infections ravaging every bordering nation but for Laos. 

Myanmar does not share the customs of greeting with handshakes, hugs or kisses,” Zaw Htay said in a much-ridiculed statement posted to the Ministry of Information’s website.

An event held Feb. 29 at Yangon's Theinphyu Stadium, which has now been turned into a quarantine center. Photo: Aye Aye Nwe / Facebook
An event held Feb. 29 at Yangon’s Theinphyu Stadium, which has now been turned into a quarantine center. Photo: Aye Aye Nwe / Facebook

He went on to say the reliance on passing around good-old-fashioned hard currency was another saving grace.

“It also does not have a high number of credit card users compared to other nations, as the person handling credit cards at the counter would be in close contact with hundred of different people in a day. This is avoided by Myanmar’s predominant use of paper currency,” he continued. 

All public gatherings including the annual Thingyan water festival are banned until the end of April. Cinemas have also been ordered closed in Yangon. 

Myanmar announced today that all travelers from foreign countries would be placed in mandatory 14-day quarantine while all foreigners would be required to show a health certificate certifying them free of COVID-19.

As more citizens return from abroad, the authorities are struggling to provide accommodations. Yangon’s Theinphyu Stadium has been turned into a quarantine facility. Charitable monk Ashin Say Kane-da stepped in and offered to accept quarantined travelers at his meditation center.  

Last Sunday, a man under quarantine complained on Facebook about the risk he and others are exposed to in the facility. He was at the same facility with one of the two men confirmed to be infected, though long Facebook rant in English was published before those results were made public.

“I am not complaining about being quarantined, but is this real quarantine or promoting us to catch the virus by sharing with random people?”

He and others will find out soon.

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