Myanmar locks down biggest city as Covid-19 cases soar ahead of elections

Myanmar red cross members work inside a temporary shelter for Covid-19 patients on a football pitch in Yangon on Sept 19, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (BLOOMBERG) - Myanmar locked down most of Yangon province, home to its largest city, for two weeks to contain a record surge in coronavirus infections ahead of the general elections scheduled for November.

The strict stay-at-home order from Monday (Sept 21) bars more than one member of a family venturing out for shopping and curbs travel from Yangon township to other cities except for essential work, according to guidelines issued on Sunday by the nation's Central Committee on Covid-19 Control.

Essential services such as banking, healthcare, fuel stations and food outlets will be allowed to operate as usual, it said.

While private sector companies and organisations were ordered to ask employees to work from home, government employees were allowed to do so on rotation.

With new virus cases surging, authorities cut the quarantine period at state facilities to one week from two to make space for the care of primary and secondary contacts of infected people, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.

New cases jumped by 671 on Sunday, a single-day record for Myanmar since the nation of 54 million people first reported the virus outbreak in late March, official data showed.

The death toll rose by 11, taking the total to 94.

Much of Yangon and Rakhine State, the epicentres of the nation's outbreak, was already under some kind of social distancing rules with a ban on domestic travel imposed from Sept 10.

Yangon region, which accounted for about a quarter of Myanmar's gross domestic product and 30 per cent of total investments, is home to the Thilawa Special Economic Zone and 29 industrial zones, according to the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations.

Myanmar is racing to contain the outbreak, with 5,805 Covid-19 cases as of Monday morning, ahead of general elections scheduled for Nov 8.

About two dozen political parties are calling for the vote to be postponed due to the resurgence in virus cases.

But the ruling National League for Democracy still favours going to vote on schedule, with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi saying the outbreak can be contained with strict social distancing curbs.

Other highlights of the lockdown orders are: No visitors allowed in streets except those with prior approval from the township authorities; vehicles must not carry more than two people; all factories including cutting, making & packing businesses must close from Sept 24 to Oct 7; and all people under quarantine are subject to a mandatory one-week home isolation after testing negative.

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