Amid contagion fears, Myanmar parents back school closures

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Yangon

By Zaw Naing Oo

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar closed schools nationwide on Thursday as novel coronavirus infections increased, a decision broadly welcomed by parents worried about a rapid spread of the contagious virus.

Myanmar has reported more than 200 cases of the coronavirus since early last week after a month without any reports of domestic transmission.

Most recent infections have been outside the biggest city, Yangon, and authorities believe they were more contagious than previously seen.

“The students have many years ahead for studying. Taking precautions against the virus is much more important for all of us,” said Thin Thin, a Yangon parent.

Khin Zaw Haling, a government official, said health measures must be followed to keep the threat at bay, after 70 new infections on Tuesday, Myanmar’s biggest daily rise.

“Now we have to again take more individual precautions,” he said.

With just six deaths and 586 infections since late March, the impact of the coronavirus has been relatively light in Myanmar, compared with Indonesia and the Philippines, which are reporting daily cases in the thousands.

Parent Swe Sin Hlaing said people in Myanmar had been careless and there was no room for complacency.

“We all have to be careful,” she said. “If we don’t take precautions, the situation would be uncontrollable.”

The new outbreak epicentre is Rakhine State, about 500 km (311 miles) from Yangon, with most cases tracked to the state capital of Sittwe, where a lockdown and curfew are in place.

Sittwe is also home to crowded camps where 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined since violence erupted in 2012, with limited access to healthcare.

One new case in Yangon on Thursday was linked to Sittwe.

Not all parents are happy about schools closing again, however, and worry about disruptions.

“I’m afraid the students won’t pay attention to their studies if the schools keeps closing,” said Aye Aye Htwe, 53.

(Writing by Shoon Naing; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

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