Myanmar Evacuates 59 Students From Virus-Hit Wuhan, China

By Zarni Mann 2 February 2020

MANDALAY – Fifty-nine of 63 Myanmar students stranded in locked-down Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, were evacuated to Mandalay on a charter flight on Sunday morning.

Two students with fever, one who had problems with travel documents, and one was traveling outside of the city at the time of the flight were not on board, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was not immediately clear how the Myanmar government will handle those left behind.

The evacuees are currently being kept at Kandawnadi Hospital in Mandalay and are under surveillance by a special health team.

“The evacuees from Wuhan will be under surveillance for 14 days. No one except for the medical team will be allowed to enter the hospital grounds. The area is restricted and security staff have been ordered to shoot anyone who tried to sneak in or who does not follow the security measures,” said Mayor U Ye Lwin, who chairs Mandalay’s Surveillance and Response Team (SRT), on his official Facebook page.

The hospital has been surrounded by a security perimeter since Saturday. Its grounds and buildings are under CCTV surveillance to ensure the evacuees remain in their rooms and do not gather in the hospital’s corridors.

The mayor said arrangements regarding medicine, water, food, sanitation, internet access, communication with family members and waste management had been designed to minimize the evacuees’ exposure to the public.

“We will use disposable food boxes and remove the waste once a day. We will not allow them to gather outside of their rooms. It will be difficult for them to stay in their room for 14 days, but we must strictly follow the [World Health Organization’s] guidelines to reduce their exposure,” the mayor wrote.

Kandawnadi Hospital for Infectious Disease, which is under the control of the Health and Sports Ministry, has not been used for many years, so the rooms were cleaned, polished and disinfected in preparation for the evacuees from Wuhan, as well as for other suspected patients.

The evacuation mission earned the government praise from the public on social media, including a post on Facebook that lauded the administration for “taking care of its citizens like other developed countries do,” referring to evacuations of citizens by the US, UK and other Western nations a few days earlier. Myanmar is among less than a handful of Southeast Asian countries that have airlifted their citizens from the epicenter of the disease.

While worried that the evacuees could bring the virus back with them from Wuhan, as Kandawnadi Hospital is located in the one of the busiest parts of the city, Mandalay locals praised the efforts of the SRT team.

“We heard the coronavirus spreads very quickly and the infection is severe, so we are worried, because they [the evacuees] will be traveling through the city from the airport,” said Daw Than Than Win, a grocery store owner who lives near the hospital.

“However, we are happy for their families and for [the evacuees]. We know the mayor and his team are implementing safety measures to tackle the infection and it is such a relief for our safety. But we want the government authorities to announce all information about the suspects and the persons under surveillance, transparently and quickly,” she added.

Echoing these feelings, Mandalay author Hsu Nget said, “We appreciate the efforts of the government to bring the students home, and their efforts to tackle the coronavirus. However, the government still needs to release quickly all information and news regarding those suspected [of being infected] and people who need monitoring.”

The author pointed to rumors spreading quickly through social media, scaring the public.

“Since the official news and information about the suspects and the infection is still slow and weak, rumors spread easily on social media and many believe them, creating unnecessary fear in the public. We want to urge the government to inform the public transparently and quickly to prevent rumors and to prevent panic,” he said.

On Jan. 31, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.

On Saturday, it said the death toll had risen to 259 in China, with 1,795 severe patients out of 11,821 confirmed cases.

A total of 132 confirmed cases outside of China were reported in 23 countries, including Thailand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Japan and the United States.

So far, Myanmar has not had any confirmed flu cases inside the country.

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