Officials in a Myanmar region and state on Tuesday reversed earlier decisions to impose controversial two-week lockdowns to prevent the spread of the contagious coronavirus and are now allowing residents to leave their homes for essential services.
The moves came a day before the Health Ministry announced that two more people had died from the virus, raising the total number of fatalities to three, though the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday held at 22.
The Sagaing regional government in northern Myanmar previously said the lockdown would take effect April 7 and run until April 21.
Residents were ordered to remain at home and only to go out to buy food or receive medical care. Those who had to travel to other states or regions during emergency situations were instructed to first obtain permission from the regional government.
Officials are now letting residents move about to go to supermarkets, gas stations, banks, and private clinics, and said they plan to replace the region’s working committee on the prevention of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.
“On April 8, they removed the order and said that the new coronavirus control and emergency response committee led by the chief minister will issue new announcements,” said Lar Htaung Htan, Sagaing’s minister of Chin ethnic affairs. “The new committee will be formed tomorrow, and then decide what to do.”
Nay Oo, a member of coronavirus prevention committee from Sagaing’s Monywa township, said that the announcement about the revamped committee means that similar township-level committees will become null and void.
“Because of the new regional-level committee formed by the chief minister, the township committees are automatically cancelled, and we are preparing to transfer remaining donations to the new committee,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Township committees comprise 24 members, including two parliamentarians and an administrator.
The regional government has instructed township administrators to set up area donation centers for the prevention and control of the coronavirus.
Aung Ne Myo, a member of the group Save Monywa which runs its own donation center said his organization would suspend operations once the government issued instructions.
“The instructions have not yet been issued, [but] when they are, we will suspend our donation center immediately,” he said.
Though shopping centers are closed in Monywa township, people are moving around and going about their daily business as usual.
Aung Myo, an upper house lawmaker from Sagaing and no relation to Aung Ne Myo, told the online journal The Irrawaddy that officials dropped the lockdown order after it caused a stir among residents.
“The previous order was causing a controversy among residents,” he was quoted as saying.” It could have created a difficult situation for residents if they had to observe recommendations from township officials every time they had to travel.”
Officials in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state also dropped a recently ordered lockdown on residents aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, following criticism that the move could have a detrimental effect on local businesses and cause a public panic, The Irrawaddy reported.
The Kayah state government said it made the decision to avoid spreading panic or harming the state socially and economically, the report said.
Lockdowns ordered by officials in other states and regions, including Yangon and Mandalay, remain in place.
Despite a government-ordered 14-day quarantine for Myanmar and foreign nationals who return to the country and those suspected of COVID-19 infections, health volunteers in central and northern Myanmar have reported several cases of people evading the isolation requirement. Those who violate mandatory quarantines are subject to jail terms.
A man from Ye-U, a town in the Shwebo district of Sagaing, was sentenced Tuesday to six months in prison for breaking a nationwide mandatory 14-day quarantine, local police said.
Authorities picked up the man, who has not been publicly named, the same day and changed him, said an officer from the Ye-U Myoma Police Station
“His test result is negative, but he still needs to be in quarantine,” the officer said. “He was sent to Shwebo Prison first, but later he was taken to a quarantine center later when he had a fever.”
In a similar case, a man in a quarantine facility in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay received a six-month prison sentence last week for leaving the shelter to buy some drinks, and then acting hostilely towards authorities when confronted.
Quarantined people released
Authorities in the capital Naypyidaw meanwhile have released more than 50 quarantined people, but warned that COVID-19 symptoms could still develop after isolation periods.
Those released, who had all returned to Myanmar from abroad, were the first group of quarantined individuals to be sent home out of more than 1,000 people currently held in isolation in the country.
“We sent 20 people from Dekkhinathiri, 27 people from Pobbathiri, and 10 people from Zeyarthiri townships back home,” said Dr. Myat Wunna Soe, deputy director general of the Naypyidaw Public Health Department under the Ministry of Health and Sports, on Wednesday.
Darli Win Su, one of those released from quarantine encouraged people to follow the government’s advice and directives regarding the coronavirus.
“What I would like to tell people is to wash their hands, use face masks, [practice] social distancing, and stay at home,” she said.
“Please help the nation by following directions from the government,” she added.
Another person among the group, Soe Hlaing, who had returned to Myanmar from China, said it was imperative that those coming back to the country be tested for the virus.
“People who return home from abroad should be tested at health centers or hospitals because they can’t know if they are positive,” he said.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said during a television talk show with health officials from Magway region that people who complete quarantines must continue to be careful and inform health centers of any symptoms they come down with after they return to their homes.
Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Khin E and Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.