China reports spike in new COVID cases on border with Myanmar

Surge at China border comes as UN warns that Myanmar could be at risk of becoming a ‘super-spreader state’.

Ruili, a small city on China's border with Myanmar, is battling its fourth outbreak since the pandemic started, reporting seven new locally transmitted cases for July 19 [CNS Photo via Reuters]

China has reported its highest daily increase in new confirmed COVID-19 cases since January, driven by an outbreak in Yunnan province, which shares a border with Myanmar, where the coronavirus is surging due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Mainland China recorded 65 new confirmed cases for July 19, compared with 31 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement. That was the most since January 30, when 92 new cases were reported.

Imported infections accounted for most of the new cases, with Yunnan reporting 41 new cases originating from abroad, all of which involved Chinese nationals who had recently returned from Myanmar.

The current bout of cases in Yunnan started on July 4, and has been concentrated in Ruili and Longchuan, two small cities on China’s border with Myanmar.

Ruili, battling its fourth outbreak since the pandemic started, reported seven new locally transmitted cases for July 19, while Longchuan had one.

Ruili is a key overland transit point for Yunnan, which has a 4,000-kilometre (2,485-mile) border with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The Yunnan outbreak marks the second cluster of infections in China involving the highly contagious Delta strain, following an outbreak in southern Guangdong province in May and June.

‘Fortress of iron’

Yunnan vice-governor Zong Guoying promised on Sunday to establish a “fortress of iron” to stop further transmissions as he visited Ruili.

In the prefecture of Xishuangbanna, which also shares a long and porous border with Myanmar, police have set up checkpoints on all roads to inspect incoming and outgoing traffic.

Travel outside of Xishuangbanna’s urban centre of Jinghong was discouraged, and special permits were also required to enter neighbouring cities of Lincang and Puer, as well as Ruili, police told the Reuters news agency during a recent visit.

For mainland China, 19 asymptomatic coronavirus cases were detected on July 19, compared with 17 a day earlier. China does not count asymptomatic infections as confirmed cases.

China’s total of COVID-19 cases has now reached 92,342, with deaths unchanged at 4,636.

‘Dead body carrier’

In Myanmar, medical volunteers are reportedly going house-to-house to collect the fast-rising number of victims dying in their homes, including in Yangon, the commercial capital.

Every day “my team is collecting between 30-40 dead bodies … I think other teams will be the same like us,” Than Than Soe, one of the volunteers, told the AFP news agency.

“Sometimes, there are two dead bodies in one house.”

Hospitals around the country are largely empty of both doctors and patients because of a long-running strike against the military generals that seized power in February.

Volunteers wearing personal protective equipment pray in front of bodies of people who died from the COVID-19 during their funeral at a cemetery in Mandalay region of Myanmar [Stringer/AFP]

Widespread anger at the coup – and fear of being seen to cooperate with the military – are also keeping many people away from military-run hospitals, leaving volunteers to source oxygen and bring the dead for cremation.

Medical workers who were at the forefront of Myanmar’s COVID-19 response before the coup have been attacked after leading early mass protests against the generals.

As of the latest count, the country had reported some 230,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 5,000 deaths but analysts say the true toll is probably much higher.

Last week, the military called for doctors and nurses to volunteer for the COVID-19 effort, admitting it was facing “difficulties” in controlling the surge.

State media reported on Saturday that authorities were rushing in oxygen supplies from neighbouring Thailand and China.

The UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar last week warned the country was at risk of “becoming a COVID-19 super-spreader state”.

On Monday, the UN Country Team in Myanmar also said that a new wave of infections could be catastrophic for the country of 54 million people.

“The current outbreak of COVID-19 is expected to have devastating consequences for the health of the population and for the economy,” the team said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies