Military officers wearing facemasks who serve as members of Myanmar's parliament leave after a session at the Assembly of the Union (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) in Naypyidaw on March 10, 2020.
AFP/Ye Aung Thu
Myanmar confirms first coronavirus cases
Sun Myat Mon (Agence France-Presse) - March 24, 2020 - 7:58am

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar confirmed its first cases of of the deadly novel coronavirus late Monday after weeks of increasing scepticism over the under-developed southeast Asian nation's claims to be free of the disease.

The country of 54 million people had been the world's largest country by population not to report a single case of the pandemic that has confined more than 1.7 billion to their homes.

With only 214 people tested by late Monday, medical experts and rights groups have urged Myanmar to stand up and face the pending crisis.

Myanmar's health ministry late Monday confirmed a 36-year-old Myanmar man travelling back from the United States and a 26-year-old Myanmar man returning from Britain had both tested positive.

"We will investigate all the people who were in close contact with these two men," the statement said.

Late night panic buying

The announcement immediately sparked panic-buying at one 24-hour supermarket in commercial capital Yangon, where hours before life had largely continued as normal.

The Myanmar government had claimed the country's "lifestyle and diet" -- including the lack of physical contact and the use of cash, rather than credit cards -- offered protection to the nation.

The country shares a porous 2,100 kilometre border with China, where the virus was first found.

Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch last week branded the government's attitude as "irresponsible", saying it served only to give people a false sense of security.

Some public spaces were closed down in recent days, from schools and cinemas to karaoke bars and massage parlours.

The country also took the unprecedented step of cancelling the planned street celebrations and huge water fights that normally mark the country's New Year in April.

On Monday thousands of Myanmar migrant workers flooded back over the border from Thailand before the planned closure of land border points.

Foreigners have left the country in droves, heeding warnings from various embassies about being trapped in a nation with what Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey described as "one of the weakest public health systems in the world".

"It also has almost no social safety net, so the poorest and most vulnerable will bear the brunt of the health and economic crisis," he told AFP.

One doctor in provincial town Pathein, even took to Facebook to plea for resources, saying his hospital had just seven beds in the isolation ward and only one ventilator and were "no way" ready for the virus.

"If we have more than seven patients, where shall we put them?" hospital head Dr. Than Min Htut wrote.

Humanitarian groups fear for Myanmar's hundreds of thousands of displaced people, confined to camps in conflict-ridden corners of the country.

The government, parliament and many other institutions are also largely led by elderly men - the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19, Horsey warned.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 4, 2020 - 4:09pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

April 4, 2020 - 4:09pm

The Department of Health reports 76 more local cases of the coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the official tally to 3,094 from the previous count of 3,018.

April 3, 2020 - 12:58pm

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. assures the public that they will shoulder the full cost of treatment for all COVID-19 patients until April 14, 2020.

"The reason for this accommodation window is due to the novelty and the wide range of severity of the disease in the country for which no existing case rate or package based on accepted protocols has yet been established," it says in a statement.

Philhealth says they will issue a new set of guidelines after the final protocol is established.

April 3, 2020 - 10:22am

The UN General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for "international cooperation" and "multilateralism" in the fight against COVID-19, in the first text to come out of the international body since the pandemic's outbreak.

The resolution, which was approved by consensus, also stresses "the need for full respect for human rights" and that "there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic." — AFP

April 3, 2020 - 8:04am

The cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers on board and was not allowed to dock in several South American countries, arrivsd Thursday in port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The liner was finally cleared for docking after long negotiations between Holland America Line, local and state officials, and the US Coast Guard, to ensure the safe disembarkation of the healthy — and the sick. — AFP

April 2, 2020 - 5:02pm

The Department of Health confirms 11 COVID-19 patients have died in the Philippines, raising the total number of fatalities to 107.

The Philippines also recorded 322 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national total to 2,633.

As of Thursday afternoon, one additional patient recovered from the deadly virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to 51.

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