The junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) announced on Tuesday that three “highly transmissible and more severe” coronavirus variants have been detected in Myanmar, amid a recent rapid increase in new cases across the country.
News of the potentially more deadly variants came two weeks after they were first detected earlier this month.
Regime-controlled media announced on Tuesday night the laboratory results of 11 patients found to be infected by the Alpha, Delta, and Kappa variants, all of whom were tested on June 3 by the Defense Services Medical Research Centre of the Ministry of Defense.
Cases of the variants were found in five locations across Myanmar, according to the MOHS. One was detected in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Region, three in Myeik, Tanintharyi Region, four in Mandalay Region, two in Tamu, Sagaing Region and one in a foreign returnee in Yangon Region.
The virus variants are the same as those found in India, the USA, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland and Switzerland, said the announcement.
The MOHS warned that the variants are highly transmissible and that they cause more severe illness, adding that some vaccines have been found to be less effective on these variants.
The MOHS announcement quoted World Health Organization advice that the Alpha and Delta strains of the virus have a high speed of transmissibility and infection. The MOHS stated that they will likely result in a higher number of hospital admissions and an increase in deaths.
Since late May, Myanmar has been experiencing a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases, after the junta relaxed restrictions and allowed pagodas, beaches and other public venues to reopen following their closure in April 2020.
The military regime also reopened public schools on June 1, after they were closed for more than a year due to the pandemic.
Of the 373 new cases reported in Myanmar on June 14 – two weeks after the schools reopened – more than 200 of the cases were found at a private high school in Yangon.
A teacher at the school also died of COVID-19 while in hospital. 246 people out of the 456 students, teachers and staff at the private school have now tested positive for COVID-19, according to a health official.
A student at a high school in Mawlamyine, Mon State also contracted COVID-19 on June 15. Other students and teachers in the same school will be tested for the virus, according to local reports.
Schools in eight townships of Chin State have been closed in recent days after the region reported a surge in coronavirus cases.
As of Tuesday, Myanmar had reported a total of 146,051 COVID-19 cases including 3,248 deaths.
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