Myanmar residents barricade city streets as coronavirus cases rise

YANGON (Reuters) - Some residents of Myanmar’s biggest city used pieces of wood and corrugated iron to make barricades around their neighbourhoods late on Friday, trying to keep out COVID-19 as the country grapples with a second wave of infections.

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The Southeast Asian nation has reported a total of 2,625 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths. The number of infections has quadrupled since mid-August, when the virus resurfaced in the western state of Rakhine after weeks without a domestic case.

Many of the recent cases have been in Yangon, the commercial capital and biggest city. Residents started erecting the makeshift roadblocks to stop people freely entering and leaving their districts.

Last week, government authorities issued stay-at-home orders for residents, and airlines and buses suspended services in and out of the city.

Aung Zaw Min, the chief of a district in Kyimyidaing township who was guarding one of the barriers, said residents had been careless about keeping the virus at bay after the previously low rate of infections.

“Now we have to realise we cannot underestimate the mass infection caused by Sittwe,” he said, referring to Rakhine’s state capital, where many recent cases were detected.

The barricades were built without permission from local authorities, who swiftly ordered the removal of the biggest barriers, though some were still in place on Saturday.

Some social media users mocked the barricades, joking that the residents had turned city neighbourhoods into “mini republics”.

“It’s like the border gate between South and North Korea,” said Lu Zaw Oo, standing in a street that had been sealed off on Saturday. “The barricade is not really necessary,” he added.

Of the 180 new cases reported on Saturday, 124 were in Yangon, the Health Ministry said.

Editing by Poppy McPherson and Helen Popper