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Myanmar confirms first two Covid-19 cases

News sparks panic buying at supermarkets in Yangon and Mandalay

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Myanmar confirms first two Covid-19 cases

Flight attendants wear face masks at Yangon International Airport. Myanmar has reported its first two Covid-19 cases. (Photo: AFP)

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Myanmar has reported its first two confirmed cases of Covid-19 after weeks of downplaying the risk to the country while infections have surged in neighboring nations.

The ministry of health and sports announced in a notice on March 23 that a Myanmar national in Chin state who recently returned from the US had tested positive and is now receiving treatment in isolation at Tedim township’s general hospital.

A second Myanmar national has tested positive after being in quarantine for 14 days following a trip to the UK. He has been transferred to Waibargi Infectious Disease Hospital and is receiving treatment in isolation.

The ministry said authorities are tracking down those who came into contact with the two patients and will hold them for observation.

The Southeast Asian nation with 54 million people had been the most populous country to say it had zero Covid-19 cases despite sharing a long, porous border with China, where the virus originated in Wuhan last December.

The announcement of confirmed cases has sparked panic buying at supermarkets in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial city.

In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, crowds of people queued even before supermarkets opened on March 24 to purchase hand sanitizer, face masks and medicines.

Before confirmation of the Covid-19 cases, life had carried on as normal across the country.

Myanmar has taken preventive measures with the cancellation of festivals and celebrations including the traditional Thingyan water festival from March 15 to April 30.

Cinemas across the country were closed from March 16, while state-run and private nurseries are also closed until the end of April.

The government last week closed all land borders and temporarily banned the entry of foreign nationals.

Catholic churches remain open for Sunday services and daily Masses but bishops have issued guidelines and urged the faithful who have a fever, cough or sneeze to avoid church services.

Churches have provided soap or hand sanitizers for worshipers, while some churches have limited the number of attendees.

Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay has urged priests to give short homilies, allow the faithful to receive communion only by hand and to reduce the number of songs in Masses.

Myanmar Baptist Convention has called on all Baptist churches to limit the number of devotees and not to hold any services with a large attendance until April 30.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon said in a homily on March 22 that “the situation of Covid-19 is uncertain and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

Thousands of migrant workers returned to Myanmar from Thailand over the weekend amid land border closures and restrictions.

The government has arranged quarantine places in monasteries, stadiums and hotels in the Yangon area, while the health minister has urged migrant workers to carry out self-quarantine for 14 days at home.

There are fears some returning workers might spread the virus and put a strain on Myanmar’s weak healthcare system and limited testing capability.

Historian Than Myint Oo said Myanmar will have few resources with which to manage an outbreak.

“The majority of people have little or no access to public healthcare. This is a country where thousands die every year from communicable diseases,” he wrote on his Facebook page on March 22.

“It’s possible that an outbreak may remain undetected in areas where public health services are virtually non-existent and people are used to living and dying without proper medical attention.”

According to the latest data, 16,557 people have died from 381,499 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide.

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