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Myanmar cancels water festival, tightens travel restrictions

Govt steps up preventive measures in confronting Covid-19 as panic grips parts of the country

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Myanmar cancels water festival, tightens travel restrictions

People panic-buy groceries in a Yangon supermarket on March 12 after hearing rumors related to Covid-19. (Photo: AFP)

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Myanmar’s government has stepped up preventive measures in confronting the coronavirus pandemic by canceling the country's largest water festival and placing restrictions on travelers from countries with a high number of cases.

“As Covid-19 can rapidly spread in crowded places, it has requested the public not to hold public gatherings including ceremonies and festivals from March 13 until April 30,” the President’s Office said in a notice issued on March 13. It said the suspension period will be extended if necessary.

Myanmar annually celebrates the Thingyan water festival marking the Burmese New Year, which is slated to be held on April 13-16. The celebration attracts thousands of revelers. 

The government also advised the public not to believe disinformation after rumors spread of someone testing positive for the coronavirus prompted residents of Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial city, to panic-buy dry and canned goods last Thursday and Friday.

The rumors on social media also affected Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, where people bought food, medicines and face masks and some shops have run out of hand sanitizer. 

There are no confirmed cases of the disease in the country but 128 people are under investigation and two suspected cases proved to be negative. Seven people are awaiting laboratory tests, according to the latest update from the health ministry.

Health officials, however, have warned of a potential outbreak and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.

Myanmar's foreign ministry has imposed new restrictions effective from March 15 that travelers including Myanmar nationals who have recently visited China, South Korea, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Iran will be placed in government quarantine facilities for 14 days.

Travelers who have visited Hubei province in China and Daegu in South Korea within the last 14 days are banned from entry and Myanmar nationals will need to stay in government quarantine for 14 days.

As a preventive measure against the deadly disease, church officials have canceled major celebrations such as Our Lady of Lourdes that draw thousands of pilgrims from across the country.

On March 13, Yangon Archdiocese announced that it had postponed the ordination of 13 priests slated to be held at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Yangon, on March 18 following the President’s Office announcement.

Sunday Masses and Catholic churches remain open and the faithful have been urged to pray for a cure for the coronavirus and for those affected by Covid-19.

Bishop John Hsane Hgyi, head of Pathein Diocese that covers the Irrawaddy division, has urged people to avoid mass gatherings and to pray, fast and adore before the Blessed Sacrament and saying the rosary. The bishop also urged the faithful to practise meditation and self-reflection and confession.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, has called for “universal brotherhood of humanity” over the coronavirus.

As of March 16, there were 170,191 coronavirus cases worldwide. Italy has almost 24,800 cases, Iran has about 14,000 and Spain has close to 8,000.

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