Myanmar Imposes Community Quarantines After COVID-19 Patient Visit

By Zarni Mann 24 March 2020

MANDALAY—The village in Tedim Township, Chin State, where one of Myanmar’s first confirmed COVID-19 patients visited is now under community quarantine and travel in surrounding areas is restricted, according to a spokesperson for the Myanmar President Office.

The Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) announced on Monday around midnight that two confirmed cases of COVID-19 were found in Myanmar, one at Waibargi Hospital in Yangon and one at Tedim General Hospital in Chin State. Both cases are patients who recently returned to Myanmar from overseas.

According to MOHS, a 36-year-old man arrived from the United States through Yangon International Airport on March 13. He travelled to a village in Tedim Township. On March 19, he was suffering from a high fever and was admitted at Tedim General Hospital.

MOHS said the patient’s condition is now stable and he has no fever or other symptoms, though he is being isolated at the hospital in Tedim.

The second COVID-positive patient is a 26-year-old man who returned from the UK. He was quarantined on Sunday in Yangon and tested positive for coronavirus. He also has no symptoms at this time and is being treated at Waibargi Hospital.

The healthcare staff from quarantine centers where the patient spent his preliminary quarantine—at a youth training school in Yangon’s Hlegu Township and a meditation center in Yangon’s Hmawbi Township—are also now under quarantine.

The government has said that travel restrictions are now being drafted for Tedim and Kale, a Sagaing Region township on the border of Chin State. Following Monday night’s announcement of the confirmed COVID-19 case, residents in Tedim fled for Kale.

Residents in Kale were also travelling en masse to the Sagaing regional capital and Yangon, in part due to concerns about local infection as the confirmed COVID-19 patient had arrived on a flight from Yangon to Kale before he was diagnosed. Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay wrote that the plane the patient traveled on has been disinfected and the cabin crew members are under home quarantine.

The government also said that health checkpoints will be deployed along the border of Sagaing Division and Chin State and that everyone arriving from abroad must stay in home quarantine for 14 days.

Local officials in Tedim confirmed to The Irrawaddy that Keptel Village, where the man who tested positive for COVID-19 stayed, is under lockdown and all residents are under home quarantine.

“Keptal village is locked down. We are arranging to transport food to the village. All authorities in the region are also informed about the patient and the list of people who had contact with them, so that they can take necessary actions such as implementing home quarantines and inform health care providers about any situations,” said U Ngo Suam Kai, a Tedim Township administration official.

According to MOHS, a team of five volunteer doctors will go to Tedim on Wednesday to help care for the COVID-19 patient.

Locals in Sagaing Region’s Kale Township told The Irrawaddy that the road connecting Chin State to Sagaing through Kale has been closed.

“The local authorities announced that roads were being closed. Many are panic buying and the local market was crowded. We were told to stay at home as much as possible and to contact health care services if we feel sick,” said Ma Mar Win, a local resident of Kale.

The Sagaing Region and Chin State governments are currently holding emergency cabinet meetings. The Irrawaddy was not able to obtain comments from lawmakers.

Meanwhile in Mandalay, restaurants, bars, tea shops and all food shops were ordered by the regional government to serve only take away meals to customers. The government has said it will punish some karaoke bars that have reportedly not followed the orders to close.

“We’ve instructed every institution in Mandalay Region to implement the necessary protection plans,” U Zarni Aung, the interim chief minister of Mandalay, told The Irrawaddy. “We will not declare a lockdown or travel restrictions yet, as the positive [COVID-19] cases are not in the local area and there is no local transmission yet. However, we are on high alert and we will take all necessary measures, step-by-step.”

U Zarni Aung said that public transportation, especially passenger buses and vehicles coming from Chin State to Mandalay, will be closely monitored and health checkpoints will be increased.

Meditation centers, stadiums, universities and schools will be converted into quarantine and health care centers so that potential patients can be monitored and patients who test positive can be cared for a quarantined.

Pagodas and monasteries are not yet on lockdown, however trustee committees for the religious sites have been instructed to reduce the number of pilgrims.

Universities in Mandalay and Sagaing regions have also announced that ongoing exams will be suspended until further notice.

The Mandalay regional parliament also announced that all parliament sessions would be suspended starting Tuesday until further notice.

However, local authorities are also making public announcements on the streets and corners of Mandalay telling local residents not to panic, to follow all instructions from the MOHS, to halt any kind of religious ceremonies and to avoid gatherings and crowded areas.

According to MOHS data on March 23, there are 273 patients in quarantine or under surveillance at hospitals across the country. There are 126 patients under quarantine at South Okkalapa Hospital and 54 in Waibargi hospital in Yangon, 67 at Mandalay’s Kandawnadi Hospital and the rest are in other hospitals across different states and divisions.

The Irrawaddy’s Myat Pyae Phyo contributed to this story.