Myanmar ‘On Waiting List’ to Evacuate Students From Virus-Hit Wuhan

By Nyein Nyein 30 January 2020

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Myanmar is awaiting the Chinese government’s approval to evacuate 63 citizens studying in the vicinity of Wuhan, Hubei Province, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak.

The Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that the government had approved the chartering of a plane to fly the students home to Myanmar and is working through the diplomatic channel with China to organize an airlift.

Since Wednesday, Japan and the United States have evacuated hundreds of citizens from Wuhan on charter flights.

“We are still on the waiting list, together with seven or eight other countries who have requested permission for chartered flights to evacuate their citizens,” said U Soe Pyae Win, second secretary at the Myanmar Embassy in Beijing.

Two days ago, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it didn’t expect to arrange the evacuation of foreigners living in Wuhan and insisted the situation was not yet so grave as to warrant such action.

A number of Myanmar students in Wuhan shared information on Facebook about the government’s efforts to organize the evacuation, with some describing it as “good news.”

U Soe Pyae Win told The Irrawaddy that 63 students would be airlifted from Wuhan. “There is no fixed date yet, but we hope it will be as soon as possible,” he said.

The embassy announced on Sunday that it planned to evacuate the students by bus to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, which is 350 kilometers from Wuhan and outside an exclusion zone in which local governments are trying to halt the spread of the contagious disease.

“It would take about one month to follow the local health department instructions, therefore the Myanmar and Chinese ministries of foreign affairs are coordinating to be able to evacuate them on a chartered flight. It is in progress and the government is waiting for permission from the Chinese government to conduct the evacuation via a chartered flight,” the embassy said on Thursday.

The embassy is in constant communication with students in Wuhan to share updated information. It has urged them to remain calm and strictly follow the preventive measures against the virus announced by local authorities.

The total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in China rose to 170 on Thursday, with 162 in Hubei. The number of infected patients globally rose to 7,815, according to Reuters.

Infections have been reported in at least 15 other nations, with 104 confirmed cases outside China, including 14 in Thailand; 11 in Japan; 10 each in Hong Kong and Singapore; eight in Taiwan; seven each in Macau, Australia and Malaysia; five each in the United States and France; four each in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Germany; two each in Canada and Vietnam; and one each in Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Finland.

World Health Organization officials will meet on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the disease amounts to a global health emergency, according to its Situation Report update.

The embassy said it expected Myanmar students in other parts of China who are worried about the coronavirus outbreak would make their own arrangements to return home.

“We only encourage them to report to us and to their relevant authorities and get permission from their universities. But we cannot yet provide the total number of citizens making their own arrangement to return to Myanmar,” he said.

Nearly 450 Myanmar citizens are studying at various universities in China, according to the embassy’s records, but U Soe Pyae Win said there may be more as some students had made their own arrangements or were on private scholarships.

The Myanmar government has made preparations to receive the students in Mandalay, and will conduct the necessary health checks to determine whether they are infected with the coronavirus or need to be quarantined, according to U Ye Lwin, the mayor of Mandalay and acting chair of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Surveillance Response Team.

U Ye Lwin told reporters on Wednesday, “We are preparing for the students as they will be able to return soon. [We have been told] they are all healthy and that we do not need to worry. We just have to put them under surveillance for 14 days to check for symptoms.”

No infections have been reported in Myanmar.

The Myanmar Consulate General in Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province, helped 1,185 Myanmar workers return home from different parts of the province through the Ruili-Muse border checkpoint from Jan. 28-30, at the workers’ request.

Residents, in Muse, Shan State, have voiced concern about the spread of the virus in the area, after two infections were reported across the border in Ruili on Jan. 25.

In Myanmar, arriving passengers have been undergoing screening at both Yangon and Mandalay international airports since last week, following a public outcry after a flight from Wuhan to Yangon landed early on the morning of Jan. 23. The next day, direct flights from Wuhan to Mandalay were canceled, as China imposed travel bans.

In the meantime, the 73 Chinese tourists who arrived in Yangon from Wuhan on Jan. 23 returned to China via a China Eastern Airlines flight from Mandalay airport on Tuesday night, according to U Tin Maung Kyaw, the secretary of the Airport Facilitation Committee of Mandalay International airport.

Myat Pyae Phyo contributed to this report from Mandalay. 

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