Fear of New COVID-19 Outbreak in Western Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 23 June 2021

Sittwe reported a new COVID-19 outbreak on Monday, with residents alarmed at what appears to be the first local transmission of coronavirus in the Rakhine State capital.

A woman from Mingan ward with no recent travel history tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, along with five crew from a cargo vessel recently returned from Bangladesh.

“The woman’s case is a separate case and nothing to do with cargo vessel crew from the border trade camp. She went to hospital after she fell sick and tested positive for coronavirus,” said U Than Tun, a member of the military regime’s Rakhine State Administrative Council.

Dr. Kyi Lwin, the medical superintendent of Sittwe Hospital, said: “The boat crew did not have symptoms. But the woman from Mingan ward had fever and difficulty breathing. So we tested her for coronavirus.”

The woman and 46 cargo vessel crew are receiving treatment at Sittwe Hospital. Four individuals who have come into contact with the woman have been placed under quarantine.

“People are worried. The authorities are not in a position to effectively handle COVID-19 at present. So people have to take care of themselves,” said U Soe Naing from a Sittwe-based civil society organization.

Since June 16, over 40 cargo vessel crew who returned to Sittwe from Bangladesh have tested positive for coronavirus.

Civil society organizations in Rakhine, western Myanmar have called on authorities to halt the border trade. But the Rakhine State Administrative Council has no plans to do that, said U Than Tun.

“For the time being we have no plan to halt the border trade. We have tightened regulations on boat crew. We don’t allow them to leave the jetty. And we have started giving COVID-19 jabs to them. And we also disinfect vessels that have come from Bangladesh,” he said.

On Sunday, two officers of the Maungdaw District General Administration Department tested positive for COVID-19. So far five COVID-19 cases have been reported in Maungdaw, which borders Bangladesh.

There have also been calls for the authorities to crackdown on illegal border crossings.

Rakhine State reported a total of 77 COVID-19 cases – 72 in Sittwe and five in Maungdaw -between January and June 21, according to the Rakhine State Public Health Department.

Myanmar started to see a gradual decline in COVID-19 infections last December, with a few hundred cases being reported each day, down from a daily peak of 1,400 in previous months.

However, far fewer tests have been carried out following the junta’s Feb. 1 coup with healthcare workers refusing to work for the military regime. That has resulted in only dozens of new infections being reported daily.

Myanmar has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases since late May after the junta relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in an attempt to normalize the country.

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