Vietnam raised its tally of coronavirus cases to 13, while authorities in Myanmar continued to search for missing Chinese travelers from Wuhan, the outbreak epicenter, as China’s Southeast Asian neighbors wrestled with the economic and health consequences of the deadly outbreak.
Hanoi’s health ministry reported Friday that one worker among eight who returned from Wuhan, China, tested positive for coronavirus. On Thursday, authorities said two positive patients were related to one of five workers returning who had returned from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and source of the outbreak.
Schools at 41 Vietnamese provinces, as well as major cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Danang remained closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV). The education ministry has asked local authorities across the country to extend school closures.
Vietnam also braced for a bit hit to tourist revenue from the epidemic, with authorities saying Chinese tourists, which accounted for a third of Vietnam’s 18 million tourists, would decrease by more than 2 million in 2020, leading to a loss of tourism revenue of US $1.8-2 billion.
In Myanmar, which also shares a long border with China and sends many workers there, residents in the border town of Muse were alarmed by a leaked letter from Chinese authorities asking local counterparts to find five Chinese citizens from Wuhan who are believed to have crossed the border illegally.
Police in Muse township said they have found a woman, who tested negative for coronavirus, but are still looking for the other four.
“We found the Chinese woman, one of the five suspect carriers, in an apartment in Muse. She worked in a plastic bag factory for a year in Wuhan. She has been transferred to Chinese authorities,” said Major Aung Kyaw Oo of the Muse Township Police Force.
The leaked letter from China “has caused panic among the people,” Muse resident Zaw Min told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Now, the people from Wuhan, where the outbreak begin, came to this town and the Chinese government has officially confirmed it,” he said.
“There are rumors that the virus carriers might be going around town spreading the virus. The level of concern is highest here. ”
Thaung Htun of the Gayunar Humanitarian Group, said “Residents of this city are all very worried about the disease because it has not been contained yet.”
“I would like to tell the people it is normal to fear but don’t panic,” he said and urged people to wash their hands, wear face masks and avoid crowded places.
“I also would like to warn people to avoid going to the Chinese side of the border except for emergencies,” added Thaung Htun.
Local health officials told RFA that in normal times nearly 300 Chinese nationals enter Myanmar every day through three official border gates while over 30,000 Myanmar nationals goes to China every day.
In Cambodia, meanwhile, the government continued to resist popular demands to reverse Prime Minister Hun Sen’s refusal to suspend flights from China, as experts warned that the country would face economic consequences from its exposure to Chinese travelers largely blocked off from other countries.
Last week, Hun Sen dismissed fears of an epidemic in Cambodia, warning that a ban on flights from China would “kill” the country’s economy and “destroy ties with China.”
He also said that there were no plans to evacuate Cambodians from China.
“Cambodian people are so worried about Chinese people and other travelers from China, and other countries are also worried about people leaving Cambodia for their countries,” said Sorn Chey, executive director of the Cambodian Social Accountability Alliance organization.
Moeun Tola, Executive Director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said that with most countries closed to flights from China, “Cambodia will become the transit route of the Chinese nation,” and may find itself on a travel blacklist.
Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that Cambodia stands behind the repeated declarations of Hun Sen.
“We have taken measures to detect coronavirus on land and water borders and we have put scanning machines at all international airports,” he said.
Laos, meanwhile, authorities told the 242 Lao students thought to be stranded in China to wait until transportation is restored, one student told RFA’s Lao Service.
“I told the Lao consulate and embassy that I wanted to go home but I don’t know how; all trains and airports are closed. They told me that they can’t help much right now and that I have to wait until the situation improves,” a student near Beijing told RFA on Thursday.
A second Lao student based in Hubei province told RFA “I’m on my own, receiving no assistance from the authorities at all, in fact relying only money sent from my family back home.”
The student, who request anonymity, added: “At first I wanted to go home too; but now I’m worried that my return might put my family in danger.”
Reported and translated by RFA’s Khmer, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnamese Services. Written in English by Paul Eckert.