Nearly 100 border guard police in Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State have contracted COVID-19, with the toll of coronavirus cases in the western Myanmar border town reaching 139 on Thursday.
Locals are concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak in Maungdaw, which borders Bangladesh, and some are now not sending their children to school.
“People are worried as cases are increasing. Previously, people didn’t wear masks outside. But they are wearing them now and some parents are not sending their children to school,” Maungdaw resident Ko Maung Ko Latt told The Irrawaddy.
The infected police were recently transferred to Border Guard Police Battalion 5 in Maungdaw from central Myanmar. They were placed under quarantine upon their arrival in Maungdaw and tested for coronavirus. 96 of them were found to have caught the virus.
“They are all in good condition. The only symptom is that they have lost their sense of smell,” Dr. Nu Cathie San, the medical superintendent of Maungdaw Hospital, told The Irrawaddy.
Until the border guard police cluster was discovered, 43 cases had been reported in Maungdaw, with five patients discharged from hospital and the rest still receiving treatment.
“Some of them don’t have symptoms. The infections were only detected when we tested the contacts of other infected patients,” said Dr. Nu Cathie San.
Former Rakhine State lawmaker and Maungdaw resident U Tun Hla Sein said locals are not following COVID-19 health guidelines.
“People say they are worried, but they don’t follow the health regulations. And the authorities can’t effectively enforce them. They can only drive around the town and shout do this and don’t do that with a loudspeaker. There wouldn’t have been large numbers of cases if they had controlled the contacts earlier,” he said.
Authorities said that people who fail to wear a mask outside of their houses will be fined as of Thursday.
In Thandwe Township, 31 COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment at hospital, said Ko Thet Lwin Phyo from a civil society organization helping coronavirus patients in Thandwe.
“There will be more cases. There are people in quarantine centers who have not yet been tested and there are also the contacts of the infected persons. So there will probably be more cases when they are tested,” he told The Irrawaddy.
A further spike in coronavirus cases will have a negative impact on Thandwe’s economy, he said.
“Some patients are placed under home quarantine. They are wage earners who have to work every day to support their families. They are struggling to make ends meet now,” said Ko Thet Lwin Phyo.
“The economy of our town is mainly based on tourism and fishing. If there are more cases and bus services have to be suspended, it will disrupt the transportation of fish and prawns. That will affect the whole township,” he added.
Nearby Ngapali Beach and its hotels are currently open to visitors, but there are hardly any travelers due to the post-coup upheavals, said residents.
Some schools in Thandwe have been temporarily closed after a school teacher tested positive for coronavirus on June 25. COVID-19 cases were reported among her contacts and other residents without recent travel histories.
Over 20 COVID-19 patients are also receiving treatment in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe. “We are planning to raise awareness due to coronavirus spikes,” said Dr. Kyi Lwin, the Sittwe Hospital medical superintendent.
The virus is believed to have spread from Bangladesh as the first cases were reported among cargo vessel crew who returned to Sittwe from Bangladesh.
On Thursday, 9,457 coronavirus tests were carried out nationwide, with 2,070 confirmed cases and 13 deaths recorded, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports.
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