COVID-19 Swabs to be Flown from Myanmar’s Rakhine After Fatal Shooting

By San Yamin Aung 22 April 2020

YANGON — Myanmar’s health ministry said swab samples for COVID-19 tests from Rakhine State will now be flown after the fatal shooting of a World Health Organization (WHO) driver on Tuesday while transporting samples to Yangon.

The WHO driver, U Pyae Sone Win Maung, died in hospital after his vehicle came under attack in Rakhine State, where government troops and the Arakan Army are in conflict. Health care worker U Aung Myo Oo was taken to hospital with a wounded hand.

The men were transporting swabs from 20 suspected COVID-19 patients from northern Rakhine State to Yangon for testing.

Previously, Rakhine samples were flown to Yangon’s National Health Laboratory with 37 people testing negative for coronavirus by last week, according to Rakhine State’s Public Health Department.

But after all flights were suspended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the WHO attempted to transport the samples by road.

“MNA [Myanmar National Airlines] and Air KBZ will soon resume flights from Sittwe to Yangon so we will transport the swab samples by these flights,” said Dr. Tha Tun Kyaw, director-general of the health ministry.

Air KBZ said it would introduce limited domestic flights until April 30 for those needing to travel for unavoidable reasons and Sittwe flights will operate on April 23 and April 29. MNA said its services would not resume before May 1.

The swabs being transported on Tuesday could no longer be tested because they needed to be assessed within 48 hours, he added.

Rakhine State has four suspected COVID-19 patients in isolation in Sittwe hospital and 800 others under quarantine. As of Wednesday, Myanmar has reported 121 cases, with five deaths and nine recoveries.

The Yangon laboratory is the only testing site in the country but the government is preparing another lab in Mandalay and one more in Yangon with the necessary biosafety standards to conduct testing.

A Swiss-made COVID-19 test machine donated by Myanmar’s largest pharmaceutical distributor, AA Medical Products, arrived on Tuesday afternoon. The new machine can run more than 1,400 tests per day, compared to the current daily capacity of around 300 tests.

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