Myanmar’s suspicious absence of coronavirus cases raises eyebrows

Yangon, Myanmar, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Myanmar and Laos are the only Southeast Asian countries that, as of Wednesday, were yet to report any coronavirus cases, although that has failed to allay the fears of a possible epidemic due to the low number of tests carried out by authorities.

Experts have warned that a possible epidemic could be catastrophic since Myanmar’s healthcare infrastructure is poor.

Anticipating the risk of a possible outbreak in the country, the British ministry of affairs on Wednesday published a statement advising its citizens to leave Myanmar, citing “potential pressures on medical facilities and the risk of air routes out of Myanmar being canceled”.

Despite the possible risk, government spokesperson Zaw Htay had claimed last Friday that Myanmar citizens’ “lifestyle and diet” helped protect them from the new coronavirus.

The spokesperson said that predominantly using cash instead of credit cards – which could spread the virus according to him – was another factor in preventing an outbreak.

The spokesperson’s bizarre claims were strongly criticized by nonprofit Human Rights Watch in a statement on Tuesday.

“Such irresponsible statements clash with everything known about the coronavirus outbreak, defy reality, and only serve to give a false sense of security to the country’s people about the disease and their risks of infection,” said Phil Robertson, the Asia division deputy director at HRW.

There are concerns that the COVID-19 could have already reached the country, which maintains close ties and a 2,000-kilometers (around 1,250 miles) long porous border with China and has one of the most fragile healthcare systems in the world.

Myanmar has also carried out a very low number of tests so far, with ministry of health data showing that just 144 people out of a total population of around 53 million had been examined for the virus.

Although the government has announced some measures to try and block the disease from entering the country, such as banning the entry of travelers from some Chinese provinces – including the worst-hit Hubei – and South Korea, and making a medical certificate and a 14-day quarantine mandatory for travelers who have recently visited Italy, Spain, Iran, France and Germany. EFE-EPA


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