Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar’s Rakhine State Capital Under Partial Lockdown Due to Spike in Local COVID-19 Transmissions

By Zarni Mann 20 August 2020

MANDALAY—Myanmar health authorities imposed a partial lockdown in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, on Thursday after six locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 were found within four days this week.

The spate of cases, including a specialist doctor at the state’s general hospital, followed a 30-day period in which the country did not detect a single local transmission.

The first locally transmitted case was found in Sittwe on Sunday. Three more were found on Wednesday morning, and another two were reported on Thursday morning.

Lockdowns were imposed in parts of Sittwe’s Kone Tan, Myothagyi, Danyawaddy and Ywartaunggyi quarters—where the confirmed cases live—and entry to those areas has been restricted.

“The Rakhine State government decided to lock down the streets where the confirmed cases live. We will inform the public about the cases, and instruct them to wear masks when going out; those found going out without masks will be punished with a fine,” said U Win Myint, Rakhine State’s minister of municipal affairs.

According to the Health Department of Rakhine State, those who have had contact with the confirmed cases have been traced and are being confined at quarantine centers and home quarantines.

One of the cases discovered on Thursday morning, listed as the country’s Case No. 395, is a 40-year-old doctor from Sittwe General Hospital who had contact with Case No. 375, an employee of CB Bank in Sittwe.

The superintendent of Sittwe General Hospital confirmed that the 40-year-old doctor is in isolation and being treated for COVID-19 at the hospital.

CB Bank issued a statement on Monday saying the process of disinfecting the Sittwe branch was complete and that all staff would be tested for COVID-19. The branch was closed for two days and resumed operations on Wednesday. The bank said it was cooperating with local authorities to make sure staff and the customers follow COVID-19 prevention measures.

Meanwhile, Myanmar National Airlines, on whose flight Case No. 375 traveled from Sittwe to Kyaukphyu on Aug. 2, has suspended all flights between Sittwe and Yangon for two weeks due to the outbreak of local transmissions in Sittwe.

Other scheduled flights and road transportation have not been affected but travelers will need to undergo health screenings at checkpoints, according to Minister U Win Myint.

As of Thursday, Myanmar had reported 396 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most of those were imported cases, involving people who were in quarantine after returning to the country on relief flights.

However, the cases reported in Sittwe on Sunday were locally transmitted, and the patients had no history of travel abroad or contact with confirmed cases. All of the local transmission cases reported since Sunday have been in Sittwe.

Meanwhile, Yangon Region Minister for Social Affairs U Naing Ngan Lin posted on his Facebook on Thursday that the regional government is planning to require those who travel from Sittwe to Yangon to undergo a 21-day quarantine. The minister said the travelers may choose hotel or facility quarantine, and will have to submit to two swab tests.

In a statement issued Aug. 15, the Yangon regional government said it would take serious action against bars, karaoke lounges and nightclubs that reopen without authorities’ permission.

Until Sunday, Myanmar had in recent months seen relatively few new cases of COVID-19, and most of those were imported. As a result, locals have become more relaxed about following the COVID-19 preventive measures announced by the government. Some restrictions have been eased lately, including on domestic travel, and it has become common once again to see people going out without wearing masks.

The Myanmar government, in particular the Ministry of Health and Sports, has warned the public of the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19. The ministry has urged the public to wear masks when going out, avoid mass gatherings, wash their hands and limit contact with others as preventive measures against COVID-19.

The government even held a national-level tabletop exercise—a simulated disaster scenario designed to boost disaster preparedness— on Aug. 13, to prepare officials for a possible second wave.

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