Myanmar & COVID-19

Over Half of Myanmar’s COVID-19 Cases Are Asymptomatic, Health Officials Concerned

By San Yamin Aung 8 May 2020

YANGON—As the country struggles with limited testing capacity, asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 have become a major concern for Myanmar’s health authorities in preventing the spread of the virus.

According to official data on Thursday, asymptomatic cases constitute 57 percent of the country’s total confirmed cases, meaning 97 out of 162 patients don’t have any symptoms of infection despite testing positive for the coronavirus. The asymptomatic patients were tested because they had close contact with patients who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Asymptomatic and mild cases cannot be detected as they wouldn’t go to the hospital, and this is one of the challenges,” Dr. Khin Khin Gyi, director of the Central Contagious Disease Prevention and Eradication Sub-Department, said on Thursday during a webinar on “Myanmar’s Challenges in Fighting Against COVID-19”.

Union Minister for Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe has also frequently warned in his recent public messages that there could be hidden cases—meaning asymptomatic cases—circulating in the population and that the true number of infections may be higher than official statistics.

Dr. Khin Khin Gyi said that while extensive testing is important to detect more cases and contain the spread of the disease, the country only has limited capabilities to conduct laboratory testing as it can’t produce virus reagents and materials to perform viral testing for COVID-19.

“While even developed countries with strong health care systems are seeing many difficulties in the face of COVID-19, developing countries like us face more challenges and needs,” she said.

Currently, only high-risk people who have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient and 5-10 percent of people in isolation at each quarantine site are being tested for the disease.

When asked by a participant in the webinar about how many people in Myanmar are expected to be infected and died due to COVID-19, Dr. Khin Khin Gyi said that while there are formulas to calculate those predicted statistics, they are not always accurate. In addition, she said that Myanmar can’t apply those formula as the testing capacity is still very limited.

So far only 10,042 people out of Myanmar’s population of 54.4 million have been tested for COVID-19, she said.

“We are now only able to test 188 people out of every 1 million,” the director said, adding that the government is planning to expand testing.

As of Thursday, out of 162 confirmed COVID-19 patients, six patients with co-morbid conditions had passed away and 50 had recovered.

The country has seen several days without any new cases since the last week of April, causing many people to relax on preventative measures and start resuming normal activities.

On Thursday night however, the government reported 14 new cases—the second-largest spike in cases since March 27.

Dr. Khin Khin Gyi stressed during the webinar on Thursday that following preventive measures is the most important thing people can do to control the disease.

“It seems most people are no longer afraid of the disease. While it is important not to be overly fearful, it is also important to be cautious and follow the preventive guidelines strictly.”

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