03/24/2020, 09.54
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Naypyidaw reports first two cases of coronavirus

Myanmar has so far been the most populous country without a single case of infection. The Burmese health system is ranked among the worst in the world: tampons performed on less than 300 people. Caritas official: "The government is starting to order closures and quarantines, especially in the state of Chin."

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Myanmar has announced the first two cases of coronavirus infection, after weeks of growing skepticism towards claims that the nation was not affected by the disease.

Despite 2,100km of porous borders with China, where the virus broke out, so far the country of 54 million inhabitants has been the only populous state that has not reported a single case of infection.

Before yesterday, health authorities had carried out fewer than 300 clinical trials. In the evening, the Myanmar Ministry of Health confirmed that two men, a 36-year-old and a 26-year-old returning from the United States and the United Kingdom both tested positive.

Last week, the government closed land borders and banned mass gatherings, including those for the upcoming Buddhist New Year. Cinemas have been closed, although bars and restaurants remain open.

Earlier this month, government spokesman Zaw Htay said in a press conference that the "lifestyle and diet of the citizens of Myanmar" had protected the country from the virus; others credited the country's devotion to Buddhism.

Some doctors say they fear a serious outbreak of the disease: the Burmese health system is ranked among the worst in the world, after decades of abandonment under military rule. Many services are run by volunteers and aid groups.

In recent days, thousands of migrant workers have returned to villages across the country from neighboring Thailand, which has confirmed hundreds of cases from Covid-19. According to experts, this justifies fears of further spread of the virus.

Mr. Augustin, head of the Caritas Myanmar Health Program, the humanitarian arm of the Burmese Church - known at home under the name of Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (Kmss) - tells AsiaNews: "So far, we Caritas volunteers are not directly involved in the authority’s response to the emergency. The government is starting to order closures and quarantines, especially in the state of Chin [western Myanmar, ed.]. The restrictive measures concern buildings open to the public but also entire municipalities. The local media are giving a lot of prominence to the issue, partly fueling fears among citizens. Last night, the population poured into shopping malls across the country. Now the situation seems to be calmer. "

For weeks, Caritas has been stepping up initiatives and measures to prevent the spread of the virus in IDP camps (IDPs) in areas affected by ethnic conflict.

According to the latest data from the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 97,455 people still live in 139 camps in Kachin. Some 57,951 are in 120 government-run camps, whilst another 39,504 are in 19 camps under the control of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Another 8,850 people have found refuge further south, in 32 camps set up by Myanmar authorities in Shan State. In Kachin along the border with China] and Shan, the Church has a strong presence, due to the high number of Christians (Catholics and Baptists).

Caritas Myanmar has educated the population to put certain sanitation precautions into practice and remains in close contact with UN organizations based in Yangon [in the south of the country, ed.].

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