Minister of Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe said Myanmar will be able to control the coronavirus outbreak if the country keeps up current efforts to contain the virus until mid-May.
Dr. Myint Htwe said in a public appeal on Sunday that “we cannot reduce the prevention and containment efforts for the coronavirus because we still have 42,671 people under quarantine at 7,020 facilities as of Sunday. If we can continue at our current pace, effectively containing the spread of COVID-19 until mid-May, we can expect to avoid a big outbreak.”
As of Sunday, Myanmar had tested 6,538 people for the coronavirus. A total of 146 people have tested positive, of which five have died and ten have recovered.
Globally, the disease has infected more than 2.8 million people and caused 193,710 deaths as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization.
Myanmar expected its “big outbreak” to hit earlier this month after the country received tens of thousands of returnees from neighboring Thailand in March. The government put in place measures to control the spread of the disease, urging people to stay home and avoid mass gatherings and cancelling Myanmar’s New Year festival, Thingyan.
The minister said Myanmar still does not see “many infections yet” despite the influx of migrant workers returning across the Thai-Myanmar border into Karen and Mon states in mid-March.
The checkpoints on the Thai border are closed to all traffic except for trade for the whole month in April. The Myanmar government will allow migrants to enter again after April 30 but every returnee will have to stay in a facility quarantine for 21 days, followed by an additional seven days in home quarantine.
Myanmar is now also seeing migrant workers return from China and Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) has sent rapid response teams to border checkpoints and receiving centers in Kachin State.
Dr. Myint Htwe stressed to the public the importance of following the guidelines for the prevention of the coronavirus disease, including staying home, observing social distancing, avoiding crowds and using masks whenever they need to go out.
Myanmar confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 on March 23 and 2.2 percent of people tested have been found to have the disease. Those who have tested positive are from 45 townships across ten states and regions in the country, with Yangon seeing the most.
The health minister also said that the number of COVID-19 cases will increase as soon as Myanmar can perform swab tests on more people. The additional testing will help the ministry to better assess the spread of the disease.
Over the past ten days, Myanmar has tested the nasal and throat swabs from a 252 to 427 people per day. The government tested at least 10 percent of those who had close contact with COVID-19 patients or are being monitored at quarantine centers.
Starting last week, the laboratory tests were conducted at Yangon’s Department of Medical Research in addition to the National Health Laboratory. Myanmar also plans to open a laboratory for COVID-19 tests in Mandalay.
The health ministry will soon be able process far more tests as it brings a new Swiss-made testing machine into service. The machine—the cobas 6800—can process 384 tests every eight hours, or 1300-1400 samples per day. It is now being assembled and MOHS said they would start using it for testing in early May.
In the meantime, the military says they are prepared to use two cobas 6800 machines of their own to provide testing for the public. The military said on Saturday at their press conference that they have added new testing facilities, including the two cobas 6800 machines, at two 1,000-bed military hospitals in Naypyitaw and Yangon. The military says it is now prepared to provide testing for the public, in addition to soldiers.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the military procured the machines in 2019 to run blood tests for other diseases like HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. He said the machines are ready to be used as they now have the reagents for coronavirus testing. They military ran tests on April 22-23 and will now use the machines for testing the public, he said, adding that the military is trying to secure an order of more than 10,000 reagents.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun added that the military will also install a smaller real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine that can test nearly 200 people per day for the coronavirus at 100-bed military hospital in Kengtung, eastern Shan State. Preparations for the laboratory in Kengtung are expected to be done in May.
The military is also operating quarantine centers at its facilities, spraying disinfectant in public areas and working to increase health care awareness.