Myanmar, Laos Claim To Still Be Coronavirus-Free
Mar 22, 2020

Myanmar insists to have avoided the coronavirus pandemic so far despite being surrounded by three countries battling the virus, including China where the outbreak started.

As of March 20, 176 suspected cases have been tested starting from January, with none having returned a positive result, the government said. Additionally, 12 suspected cases are still awaiting test results.

Although no confirmed case has been identified, the authorities are taking measures to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold in the country. The government warned people not reporting a person suspected of being infected with the pneumonia-like disease is a crime punishable by imprisonment.

The government also banned all mass gatherings, including the celebration of the Thingyan New Year festival next month, the most celebrated event in the country. It also ordered the closure of cinemas, bars and karaoke joints until the end of April. Strict temperature screening and health checks are being implemented at shopping malls, hotels and restaurants and occasionally even at parking lots since mid-February.

The government further suspended visas on arrival and e-visa systems temporarily for all foreign nationals as part of its stepped-up precautionary measures. It also began enforcing a compulsory, 14-day quarantine for all travelers arriving from or having visited the US and eight more European countries (Switzerland, UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Denmark) during the previous two weeks.

Laos’ assertion to be virus-free seems hard to believe

Likewise, Laos – which is also bordering China and other countries with high caseloads – said that is has not yet confirmed any coronavirus infections in the country. It so far has tested nearly 100 people for the disease.

But observers say that the virus-free state of the country is likely a myth. With underequipped hospitals, a lack of testing facilities and a government not known for open information policy, the assumption is rather that of a “hidden” epidemic given the fact that the country has been visited by hundreds of thousands Chinese tourists ahead of the outbreak and has thousands of Chinese workers in its special economic zones and along the Chinese-built Kunming-Vientiane railway.

On the other hand, the country’s low population density and poor infrastructure which limits travel could be a reason why the virus has not spread like in other Southeast Asian countries. In Laos, two thirds of the population lives in rural settings and in some provinces more than 20 per cent of communities have no road access.

However, as precautionary measures, Laos closed all schools and entertainment venues and imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine for arrivals from high-risk countries, including Laotians. The Lao government on March 18 also suspended the issuance of all types of visas on arrival and electronic visas for foreign tourists for 30 days.