Sittwe Residents Fearful of COVID-19 Outbreak

By Network Media Group
Friday, August 21, 2020

Fear set in after four people tested positive for COVID-19 in Sittwe, in Burma’s western Rakhine State, in the last four days. The Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) has determined that three of the cases have no travel history and were transmitted locally.

Tun Aung, who lives in the capital city, told NMG a case worked at a bank and “would have been in contact with many people.” The infected person traveled once during a short trip to Kyaukphyu and Ponnagyun in Rakhine State. “No-one knows where they got this virus from. But surely it’s spreading. Three people tested positive for COVID-19 in Sittwe, so we will have more positive patients here. That is why we are so concerned.”

The bank employee (Case 375) tested positive on August 16. Dr Zaw Lwin, the head of Sittwe Public Hospital, said an additional three were confirmed on August 19. Two were in contact with Case 375, and the third works at the same bank.

Zaw Zaw Tun, secretary of Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC), told NMG since the infections were locally transmitted there’s concern it would spread to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Sittwe where an estimated 4,000 Rohingya live in close quarters. Some of the IDPs work outside the camp or in the market, he said, explaining the need for contract tracing to determine where the outbreak started.

Since news of the outbreak, fewer people have been congregating in downtown Sittwe. But others are carrying on as if nothing happened.

Zaw Zaw Tun criticized the government for being lax after the number of infections decreased across the country. “The government doesn’t pay attention when patients test negative, it’s like their performance decreases. For example, they lifted some of their restrictions. And government staff don’t wear face masks or follow COVID-19 (prevention) guidelines.”

Over a hundred people who had contact with Case 375 had their tissue samples taken for testing and are being monitored.

Zaw Zaw Tun says more needs to be done, suggesting the government block all roads to Sittwe to prevent anyone from entering or leaving. “I think the government should lock down Sittwe.” He also said the bank where Case 375 works should be closed.

In Rakhine State, there have been 20 cases of COVID-19, according to MoHS, but it’s unclear how many of these cases are still active. Nationally, there were 401 cases on August 21, of which 333 recovered and 6 died.