Myanmar shuts schools after biggest daily climb in coronavirus cases

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar ordered all schools to close after reporting 70 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, its biggest daily rise, as authorities try to tackle a resurgence of the virus following weeks without confirmed domestic transmission.

FILE PHOTO: A volunteer checks the temperature of a man at the entrance of Sittwe Hospital, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

All but one of the new cases announced on Wednesday were in the western state of Rakhine, found in nine different locations, each linked to an outbreak in the state capital Sittwe, where a lockdown and curfew were imposed last week.

Myanmar’s outbreaks has been relatively small compared with other countries in the region, with just six deaths and 574 infections in total, but an increase in COVID-19 cases by nearly 35% in just over a week is causing some concern.

“We have called all the schools and instructed them to close from tomorrow,” Ko Layy Win, director general of the country’s Department of Basic Education, told Reuters.

“The central committee of COVID decided to do that since the local transmission in the country is high.”

One of Wednesday’s cases was in the biggest city Yangon, in an individual seeking medical clearance to travel.

The virus resurfaced in Myanmar on Aug 16 after a month without community transmission, with the majority of those cases in Sittwe.

Sittwe is also home to crowded camps where about 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined since violence erupted in 2012. Rohingya mostly face strict curbs on freedom of movement and access to healthcare.

Myanmar has restricted internet access in much of the region on security grounds. Humanitarian workers have urged the authorities to restore it at higher speeds to ensure reliable health information is available.

Among the 179 domestic infections since early last week, authorities have detected a mutation thought to be more contagious than previously seen in Myanmar.

To keep COVID-19 at bay, Myanmar has since late March closed its borders to all but returning citizens, who are required to undergo quarantine.

Writing by Shoon Naing and Martin Petty; Editing by Peter Graff