Myanmar to Perform COVID-19 Tests on All Migrant Returnees from Thailand

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 22 May 2020

Yangon – Myanmar’s government is planning to conduct COVID-19 tests on all migrant returnees from Thailand at the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border in Karen State to curb the spread of imported cases, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.

As of Thursday, Myanmar has reported 199 COVID-19 cases which include 41 imported cases, according to the ministry.

Since May 11, the government says it has tested all nationals returning home with repatriation flights after coronavirus was found among those deported from Malaysia.

Nearly 40,000 migrant workers in Thailand have registered with the labor attaché at Myanmar’s Embassy in Bangkok to return home after being stranded for more than a month, according to the Thai-based Migrant Worker Rights Network.

On May 18, Thailand said it would allow migrants to return to Myanmar.

It was agreed bilaterally that 210 passengers could return home by bus each night under special travel arrangements.

From May 22, 10 buses carrying 21 passengers each and guarded by the Thai police are due to leave for Mae Sot from Bangkok.

Migrants based outside Bangkok are allowed to head to three border gates, Mae Sot, Ranong-Kawthaung in Tanintharyi Region and Mai Sai-Tachileik in Shan State, after asking for travel permission from the Thai authorities.

Dr. Than Naing Soe, a health ministry spokesman, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the authorities will conduct COVID-19 tests on all returnees using the Myawaddy border, where the majority of returnees are returning.

He could not confirm when the tests will be started as preparations are still underway.

“We will make an official announcement [for the tests],” he said.

Myanmar’s Health and Sports Minister Dr. Myint Htwe told Parliament on Friday that he has ordered tests for all returnees since May 16.

The health ministry spokesman said he did not know about testing plans at the other two border gates.

“We have prioritized migrant returnees for COVID-19 tests as imported cases have increased while transmission in Myanmar has fallen,” said Dr. Than Naing Soe.

He told The Irrawaddy on Friday that all migrant returnees from Thailand would be held for about two days at Myawaddy’s quarantine centers for COVID-19 tests.

Those testing positive would receive hospital treatment and anyone testing negative would be sent to quarantine centers in their states and regions for 21 days.

U Saw Bo Bo Wai Maung, the Karen State minister for social affairs, told The Irrawaddy that the state had already arranged enough accommodation for returning migrants.

They have been discussing the details about quarantine places and testing for returnees, he said.

U Khin Maung Tint, a Shan State parliamentarian for Tachileik Township, which hosts a border gate, said returnees who have a fever and other coronavirus symptoms will be tested.

Quarantine centers for up to 1,000 returnees and about 15 hospital rooms had been prepared for COVID-19 patients.

From March 21 to 30, around 40,000 migrants in Thailand returned through Myawaddy and Tachileik

Since April 30, Myanmar has brought home more than 2,000 stranded nationals in more than 10 countries, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, UK and US.

From May 16 to 20, Myanmar reported 18 cases of COVID-19 in those returning from Malaysia and the UAE.

Myanmar’s government said it had conducted 17,152 COVID-19 tests by Friday morning with six deaths and 108 recoveries.