Yangon — The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s strongest ethnic armed group, has opened a COVID-19 lab equipped by China at its headquarters in Panghsang.
The Red Cross Department in Pu’er City, Yunnan Province, has provided equipment to test coronavirus using “Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction”.
The machine, costing over US$400,000 (531 million kyats), can reportedly test more than 30 swabs per hour using the latest Chinese technology.
On Sunday, 30 Wa residents tested negative at the lab.
“We began using the equipment on Sunday. There has long been cooperation between the Yunnan and Wa health sectors. They installed the machines and provided training,” UWSA spokesman Nyi Rang told The Irrawaddy.
The UWSA previously used rapid test kits provided by the Chinese.
Pu’er is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which plans to establish trade routes with Wa State.
Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution acknowledges the Wa areas in Shan State as a self-administered region, covering six townships split between two districts. The Wa administration has total control over the area’s governance.
The UWSA also has control over some parts of Mong Tong Township and Nar Kaung Mu and Pone Par Kyin in Mong Hsat District in eastern Shan State and along some areas of the Thai border. The UWSA calls the area southern Wa territory but it is far from Panghsang as Mongla and Kengtung lie between the two enclaves.
When asked how COVID-19 will be tested in the southern Wa enclave, Nyi Rang said: “If there are no labs to test coronavirus in Tachileik and Mong Hsat, we will transport swabs to Panghsang.”
Nyi Rang said the UWSA will offer to assist its allies, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and Shan State Progressive Party, with COVID-19 testing.
Myanmar’s military has opened a COVID-19 lab in Kengtung in Shan State. Commander-In-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing visited Kengtung in May, September and November and met representatives from the UWSA’s southern enclave and offered to help tackle COVID-19.
He said military medical teams would be sent to organize COVID-19 tests in Kengtung, calling on Shan State’s minorities to rely on the Myanmar authorities to end the coronavirus outbreak.
Myanmar’s military spokesman, Major General Zaw Min Tun, said mobile medical teams are providing health care as the southern Wa enclave only has two health assistants.
The UWSA and NDAA, also known as the Mongla Group, have received health assistance from China which dispatched medics to train staff in Wa and Mongla on COVID-19 prevention and provided disinfectant, masks and other equipment.
Despite offers of assistance from Myanmar’s government and military, the UWSA closed its borders with territory held by the Myanmar authorities and China since late March.
Myanmar reported 100,431 COVID-19 cases with 2,132 deaths and 79,240 recoveries on Tuesday.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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