Myanmar Pilgrims told to Stay Home to Tackle COVID-19 in Rakhine State

By Khine Rola 17 December 2020

Sittwe, Rakhine State — The Rakhine State government has restricted travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in response to increased movement in the state.

The Sittwe authorities on Tuesday asked residents not to travel unless necessary and to seek approval from ward and village administrators for any travel plans. Sittwe residents have been increasingly leaving the township for pilgrimages or pleasure.

Dr. Soe Paing Win, assistant director of Rakhine State Public Health Department, on Tuesday reported 3,954 COVID-19 cases with 3,717 recoveries and 34 deaths in the state.

Rakhine municipal minister U Win Myint said: “Those restrictions are already in place but the authorities have stopped enforcing them. As COVID-19 cases decline, people have stopped following regulations so we have issued the order to prevent another outbreak.”

Myanmar’s second wave of COVID-19 broke out in Rakhine State after a bank employee in Sittwe was found infected with the virus on Aug. 16. The virus spread across Rakhine State with over 1,000 cases per day.

The state government then imposed travel restrictions on Sittwe.

While cases have declined, military tensions between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA) have also eased, encouraging the Buddhist population, who were not able to take pilgrimages due to the clashes over the past two years.

The Maha Myat Muni Buddha in Kyauktaw Township has seen between 3,000 and 5,000 on public holidays and religious events, according to the pagoda’s board of trustees.

Pilgrims at the Maha Mui Buddha in Kyauktaw. / Facebook

“The number of pilgrims has increased because the guns have fallen silent and there are no military checks on the road. It is also because people from various parts of the state have not been able to travel due to fighting and partly because it is more convenient to travel now the rains have stopped. The compound has been packed,” said the board chairman, U Nyo Tha Hla.

Pilgrims mostly come from Sittwe, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Kyaukphyu, Thandwe and Taungup townships, he said.

Sittwe bus driver U Aung Kyi Moe said: “We were almost jobless previously due to the fighting and COVID-19. But since clashes have ceased in November, our buses are packed every day. There are no military checks on the road so it is very convenient.”

Historic Mrauk-U is also teeming with visitors, reported residents.

Mrauk-U Cultural Heritage Conservation Group chairwoman Daw Khin Than said: “Many travelers are visiting Mrauk-U as clashes have ceased and the rainy season has ended. They are from various parts of the state.”

Dr. Kyawt Tha Sein, a medic in Sittwe, said: “Travelers must follow COVID-19 regulations, such as wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizer.”

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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