The notorious regime in Myanmar is secretly plotting of spreading coronavirus amongst the Rohingya community within the Rakhine state, while it also has recruited some Rohingyas with the mission of spreading the virus amongst those one million-plus Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh. This newspaper has learnt the matter from a very dependable source.
Myanmar is braced for a “major outbreak” after one of the thousands of migrants returning from Thailand tested positive for the new coronavirus, and the country recorded its first COVID-19 death on Tuesday.
Myanmar confirmed its first two cases on March 23, in two people who had traveled to the United States and the United Kingdom, but that number has now climbed to 14.
The government says it is on top of the outbreak, but experts worry the disease has already been circulating for some time.
Andrew Tatem, an epidemiologist at the University of Southampton told Al Jazeera, it was “quite likely” the virus arrived in Myanmar earlier.
“The countries surrounding Myanmar reported cases … much earlier, and there is usually substantial mobility in the region,” he said via email, adding that more widespread testing would be expected to find more cases.
Myanmar shares a 2,000-kilometer-long (1,243 miles) border with China, crossed by an estimated 10,000 workers on a daily basis. Before they were stopped, the country also had direct flights to Wuhan, the city where the pandemic first began.
The United Nations has announced a plan to donate 50,000 testing kits to Myanmar, supplementing previous donations of 3,000 from Singapore and 5,000 from South Korea.
Khin Khin Gyi, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, admitted it was possible the virus arrived in Myanmar earlier but said a certain percentage of those cases would presumably have been “severe” and therefore would have come to the government’s attention.
Independent analyst David Mathieson said, “The public health system in Myanmar is woefully unsuited to responding to a pandemic on this scale, so it will be hard to assess how long COVID-19 has been in the country and how many people have perished but had deaths recorded under other causes”.
Mathieson said the Myanmar government was slow to respond due to a “toxic mixture of incompetence, a culture of denial, and ultra-nationalist bluster.”
Meanwhile, Myanmar authorities are already hiding the fact about the silent spread of coronavirus in the country.
Thousands of migrant workers had returned from Thailand and Alexa Bay, director of anti-trafficking group Daughters Rising, said migrant workers belatedly heard about self-isolation policies from local news.
“They have not heard anything from the government,” she said.
Wahkushee Tenner, a Karen activist, said the chaotic return had put the migrants and local population at risk.
“These people are at the most risk of being infected if anyone among this big crowd is infected. It’s really putting the local community at high risk where there is no test available, and most of these workers came from poor and remote areas,” she said in a message.
Those living in Myanmar’s makeshift camps for people displaced by civil conflict are also bracing for a possible crisis. Human Rights Watch called the camps, which are home to an estimated 350,000 people, “COVID-19 tinderboxes”.
“Years of conflict, neglect, and abusive policies by Myanmar’s government and military have left hundreds of thousands of displaced people sitting in the path of a public health catastrophe,” said HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams in a statement.
Myanmar’s policymakers also face the difficult choice between potentially exposing themselves to the virus, or taking an income hit they simply cannot afford.
“Many Myanmar people live on a knife’s edge of livelihoods and food security,” said Mathieson. “Myanmar’s poor will be the ones who suffer the most from any pandemic, and any extended shutdown without significant government and private food supplies and sustainability will drive many communities to desperation.”
Some of the girls who are domestic workers and sex workers think that their job is risky now, and they are worried that they come in contact with people that have the virus … but they don’t feel they can refuse because they are afraid, they will be fired.
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