Myanmar Sees Record Virus Cases as Rakhine State Emerges as Hotspot

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Myanmar reported 70 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the highest one-day tally since the virus was first detected in the country on March 23, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.

There had been no local transmissions between July 16 and Aug. 16, with about 200 infections detected since then. The majority of cases are residents of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and 75% of them are asymptomatic, according to the Ministry. With the latest cases, the Southeast Asian nation’s total count reached 574.

“We have noticed the rate of infections in Rakhine State has risen quickly and expect to see many more cases in the coming two weeks,” Khin Khin Gyi, director of emerging infectious disease at the Health Ministry, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

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Sittwe is along the Bay of Bengal, on the western part of Myanmar and south of Bangladesh. It has a large population of Rohingya Muslim minority.

“Rakhine State has become the hotspot for infections so we assume the new variant of Covid-19 named D614G is spreading there, originating from a market,” Khin Khin Gyi said.

The official warned, citing epidemiological findings in other countries, that the new strain “could spread 10 times faster,” so the government will tighten entries and exits from Rakhine State. The government will also send in more medical workers and volunteers, strengthen capacity of hospitals and step up contract tracing and testing in public hospitals and laboratories.

About 13,000 doctors and thousands of nurses stand ready at over 1,300 public hospitals across Myanmar to provide treatment in the event of a spike in cases, Khin Khin Gyi said. Business capital Yangon, Myawaddy and Rakhine State are considered “risky areas,” she said.

Myanmar has a population of about 54 million, and has borders with Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh and Laos.

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