World, Asia - Pacific

Myanmar announces first two cases of coronavirus

Authorities struggling to cope with massive influx of migrant workers returning from neighboring countries

Kyaw Ye Lynn   | 24.03.2020
Myanmar announces first two cases of coronavirus

YANGON, Myanmar

Myanmar confirmed its first two cases of the novel coronavirus late on Monday, with both cases imported.

Despite sharing a long and porous border with China, where the coronavirus was first reported, Myanmar had long claimed  to be free of the virus.

In a press release, the Ministry of Health and Sports confirmed that two Myanmar men tested positive for the virus and were hospitalized.

They include a 26-year-old man who returned from the U.K. had arrived in Yangon on Sunday. He was subsequently quarantined in Yangon, where he tested positive for COVID-19.

The other patient, a 36-year-old male and U.S. green card holder, arrived in Yangon on March 13 and traveled to the western Chin state. He experienced fever a week after arriving in Myanmar and tested positive for COVID-19. He is now under isolation at a hospital in Chin State.

The country's Ministry of Education on Tuesday ordered the closure of colleges and universities across the country. All schools remain closed since early March as part of the country's annual summer vacation that will continue till June.

Health authorities have been on high alert since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic earlier this month. 

The government announced last week that incoming travelers from 14 countries must remain in quarantine for 14 days at government facilities.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed further restrictions on entry into the country. 

In a statement, it said that both Myanmar and foreign nationals arriving in the country would be subject to a 14-day quarantine period starting Wednesday, with foreigners only allowed entry through the Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw international airports.

It added that only diplomats and UN officials would be allowed to self-quarantine in their homes.

State and regional governments have been preparing quarantine facilities across the country as tens of thousands of returnees, mostly migrant workers from neighboring Thailand and China, continue to arrive through the country's border gates.

"Though we ban the entry of foreigners through the border passes, we still allow our nationals who returned from Thailand," said a regional minister in Kayin state, which borders Thailand.

Authorities imposed self-quarantine for Myanmar nationals who returned from neighboring countries such as Thailand, China and Laos through border passes.

"It is impossible for the government to carry out facility quarantine for tens of thousands of returnees," he told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

Naing Ngan Lin, a regional minister of social affairs in Yangon, said on social media that he was still in self-quarantine after visiting a monastery where there were around 100 returnees.

After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 168 countries and regions, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. 

The number of confirmed cases worldwide totals 378,679 and the death toll now tops 16,500, while over 100,000 people have recovered.

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