Myanmar Prepares Quarantine Centers as Official COVID-19 Count Remains at Zero

By Nan Lwin 23 March 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar government is preparing makeshift quarantine centers across the country for Myanmar nationals who are returning by air from foreign countries hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the Health Ministry and state and regional governments are preparing quarantine facilities, according to Daw Khin Khin Gyi, director of the Central Contagious Disease Prevention and Eradication Sub-Department in the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS).

The Thein Phyu Boxing Stadium is being transformed into a quarantine center for Myanmar nationals returning from foreign countries. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

“We cannot confirm how many people we have prepared for, because the number keeps changing as we receive offers of help from different stakeholders for quarantine facilities,” Daw Khin Khin Gyi told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “But I can say that we have prepared enough places for people who need to be quarantined.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced last Friday that all incoming travelers arriving from 14 countries—Italy, Iran, France, Spain, Germany, the United States, Switzerland, the UK, Netherland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Belgium—must be quarantined for 14 days at government facilities.

MOFA also said that Myanmar nationals who have been in high-risk areas such as China’s Hubei Province and South Korea’s Daegu and Gyeongbuk Region in the past 14 days will be subject to a 14-day quarantine in government facilities. The Myanmar government has also temporarily suspended all visas-on-arrival and e-visas until April 30.

On Saturday, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said that Yangon has prepared 500 apartment units for quarantine purposes and an additional two 300-bed hospitals in case the outbreak hits the city.

Five stadiums in five Yangon townships have been prepared as possible quarantine centers, with room to keep 100-150 people at each site.

During the weekend, hundreds of Myanmar citizens from Europe and other countries, including 40 Myanmar students coming from the UK, landed in Yangon International Airport amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Myint Htwe (far right), Union Minister for Health and Sports, looks around the mediation center in Hmawbi Township, which is being prepared as a quarantine site that could house about 400 people. / Ministry of Health and Sports

Myanmar has also turned a mediation center on the outskirts of Yangon in Hmawbi Township as a quarantine site for about 400 people. Prominent Buddhist monk Ashin Cekinda, the founder of the Dhammaduta Jetavana Monastery, offered the space to the government.

Businesses have also offered the government training schools and housing complexes for use as quarantine sites. The Ayeyarwady Foundation, run by the Max Myanmar Group of Companies, one of Myanmar’s largest conglomerates, has prepared its bank training school and football academy buildings as quarantine sites for 150 people in Yangon.

The Myanmar Development Association, run by Sae Paing Development Ltd, is also prepared to turn 168 apartment units into a quarantines site.

Union Health Minister U Myint Htwe said that the MOHS is currently in discussion with some hotel owners about using their properties as quarantine facilities.

Currently, Myanmar has quarantined about 243 people at hospitals across the country: 111 people in South Okkalapa Hospital and 41 people in Waibargi Hospital in Yangon, 67 people in Kandawnadi Hospital in Mandalay, and 24 people at hospitals in other regions and states.

Despite the fact that the neighboring countries of Thailand and India are seeing a rising number of COVID-19 cases, the Myanmar government has yet to confirm a case of COVID-19. MOHS said Myanmar health officials tested 187 people but have not found a single case of the coronavirus as of Monday. A total of 19 people are still awaiting for lab results, according to the MOHS.

U Zaw Zaw (center), the founder of the Max Myanmar Group of Companies, looks around a football academy that is being transformed into a quarantine site. / Ayeyarwady Foundation

“Even though there are no confirmed cases yet, we are not sure there are no infected people in the country. All we can say is that no one we have tested so far has tested positive,” Daw Khin Khin Kyi said. “When it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have taskforces for disease control and prevention in every state and region. A total of 17 taskforces have been preparing and trying their best to prepare for the possible outbreak.”

Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 migrant workers returned to Myanmar across land border gates with Thailand over the weekend. MOHS announced Sunday that the returnees must home quarantine for 14 days as there are too many returnees for quarantine centers to handle.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 340,000 people around the world, leading to 14,606 deaths. Italy has become the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Europe, with nearly 60,000 people infected and 5,476 deaths. In China, more than 80,000 people have been infected and 3,270 have died, while in the US, nearly 33,000 have been infected and 400 people have died.

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