A policeman watches while people wear face masks on a street during the lockdown to stem Covid-19 in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state in Myanmar, on Aug. 23. (Photo: AFP)
Health officials in Myanmar have stepped up efforts to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak after the country recently reported locally transmitted cases.
On Aug. 23, the government sent 24 healthcare workers including doctors and nurses to Sittwe, capital of Rakhine, where cases have surged since Aug. 16.
The Ministry of Health and Sports reported 13 more infections on Aug. 24 morning, bringing the number of local transmission cases to 72.
There are 463 confirmed cases in Myanmar including six deaths and 341 recoveries, according to the latest data.
The first local transmission case was a bank worker who had no close contact with infected patients nor travel history overseas.
In the wake of surging cases, authorities have imposed a partial lockdown in Sittwe and a curfew from 9pm to 4am, urging people to stay at home.
Flights from Sittwe to Yangon, the commercial hub of Myanmar, have been suspended.
Near Sittwe, the Covid-19 hotspot in western Myanmar, thousands of Rohingya Muslims remain in displaced persons camps, facing restricted freedom of movement and limited access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities.
In Rakhine, Myanmar’s military and Arakan Army have been locked in a 20-month conflict that has forced over 80,000 people, mostly ethnic Rakhine, to flee their homes and seek refuge in camps, monasteries and schools.
Health officials have urged people to be vigilant and obey guidelines such as avoiding crowded places, wearing face masks in public, practice social distancing and washing their hands frequently to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.
The news of the Covid-19 spike in Rakhine has alarmed other regions in the country where things are returning to normal as restrictions have been loosened.
Last week more people were seen wearing face masks on the streets in Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, and the price of face masks rose in several cities.
Limited public Masses
On Aug. 23, Sacred Heart Cathedral and some parishes in Mandalay resumed public Masses limited to 30 people. The faithful were urged to wear face masks, sit six feet apart and wash their hands before entering the church.
Mandalay announced on Aug. 17 that Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus are allowed to hold prayer services once a week with no more than 30 people.
The regional government urged the various religions to follow the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Sports.
Some 16 dioceses nationwide continue to broadcast Sunday Masses, daily Bible reflections and Eucharistic adoration.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon said the Covid-19 situation in Myanmar is deeply worrying and urged the public to comply with guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Sports.
“Covid has forced us to be together in our generosity and through our fears. But it also has posed great questions to our existence, our faith and our priorities,” he said in a homily on Aug. 23.
The cardinal said that during these challenging times the Gospel of today throws one of the most challenging questions, with Jesus asking: “Who do you say that I am?”
“The answer to that question will determine our personal lives, our faith life and our life as the human family in the post-Covid era,” he added.
The first Covid-19 case was found in Myanmar on March 23 and most confirmed cases in recent months have been imported, including returnees from India, the UAE and Malaysia.
According to the latest data, almost 808,000 people have died out of more than 23 million confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide.