Myanmar Junta Officials on Bangladesh Border Test COVID-19 Positive

By The Irrawaddy 22 June 2021

A senior official and a lower-ranking staffer of the Maungdaw District General Administration Department in Rakhine State, western Myanmar have tested positive for COVID-19. Maungdaw is a border town next to Bangladesh.

The two were tested for the virus after they fell sick on Sunday, said Dr. Nu Cathie San, the medical superintendent of Maungdaw Hospital.

“They are receiving medical treatment and are in good condition, so there is no need to worry about their health,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The two officials were transferred to Maungdaw last month from Kawthaung in Tanintharyi Region, a port that borders Thailand. Neither official has made any work trips since then. The source of their infections remains unclear, said Dr. Kyi Lwin, the head of the Rakhine State Public Health Department.

“They don’t have any travel history this month. But they came from Kawthaung. So we can’t yet determine the source of their infections,” he said.

Five other staffers from the Maungdaw General Administration Department who have been in contact with the two officials have been placed under quarantine, added Dr. Nu Cathie San.

U Maung Ohn, a former Rakhine State lawmaker and Maungdaw resident, suggested that COVID-19 infections in the district stem from neighboring Bangladesh. He urged authorities to restrict illegal border crossings.

“There are people who cross the border illegally. I think the virus was transmitted from them, because they [the two patients] have had meetings with village administrators in the township,” he told The Irrawaddy.

On June 17, 31 crew members from a cargo vessel which returned to Sittwe from Bangladesh tested positive for coronavirus. The previous day, one boatman from Maungdaw and nine others from Sittwe tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Bangladesh.

Civil society organizations in Rakhine have called for a halt to border trade following a surge in imported cases.

The State Administration Council, which is how the junta describes itself, has said it will continue bilateral border trade in line with COVID-19 regulations. The military regime resumed border trade with Bangladesh in April, two months after their coup.

Most trade with Bangladesh goes through the Maungdaw and Sittwe border trade centers, which were closed from June 2020 to April this year after a man returning from Bangladesh tested positive for coronavirus.

Between January and June 21, Rakhine State recorded 77 COVID-19 cases, 72 from Sittwe and five from Maungdaw, according to the state public health department.

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