Burma Steps up Border Health Checks on MERS Fears

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 22 June 2015

RANGOON — After Thailand confirmed its first case of Midde East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Friday, Burma’s Ministry of Health has ordered an increase in medical screenings for foreign arrivals at border checkpoints.

Though authorities have yet to record a confirmed MERS case within the country, security has been stepped up at seaports, airports and land crossings, according to Dr Soe Lwin Nyein, the acting director-general of the Department of Public Health, adding that the ministry was preparing contingencies for quarantining those exposed to the virus.

Ministry of Health teams are using infrared scanners to screen arrivals for fever at the country’s international airports after concerns were raised over the spread of MERS by Health Minister Than Aung last week.

Dr Su Mon Oo, Rangoon Airport’s chief medical officer, said that two scanners installed in the arrivals hall during last year’s Ebola scare had the capacity to screen 3000-3500 arrivals per day.

“Since the Ebola disease broke out, the Ministry of Health set up two machines to test passengers, which will be used to screen those from MERS infected countries like South Korea,” she said. “About 60-100 passengers come from South Korea every day, so we’ve been checking them seriously, but we haven’t seen any suspected cases.”

On June 19, Thailand became the fourth Asian country to confirm a positive case of the virus, in this instance a 75-year-old businessman from Oman. The outbreak has claimed 23 lives in South Korea so far, with another 165 reported cases.

On receiving news of the Thai case, authorities have ordered screenings at land border checkpoints, including on the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge connecting Mae Sot to Myawaddy and the Muse-Riuli crossing between Shan State and China. Screenings have also changed focus at airports to scrutinise arrivals from Thai airports.

“As most airline routes here are from Thailand, we’ve become more alert to check passengers with the screening system,” Myint Htay, assistant general manager of Mandalay Airport, told The Irrawaddy. “Passenger awareness and cooperation have also been good.”

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said that a strong response to the spread of MERS was necessary to prevent a long-term slump in foreign arrivals.

“Normally, if a strong disease is found in the region, tourism declines across the region. As Thailand is one of our international gateways, we need to be even more alert,” he said.