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Myanmar braces for surge in coronavirus cases

Firefighters spray water at a local market amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday. The country is warning of an increase in coronavirus infections. Photo by Nyein Chan Naing/EPA-EFE
Firefighters spray water at a local market amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday. The country is warning of an increase in coronavirus infections. Photo by Nyein Chan Naing/EPA-EFE

March 30 (UPI) -- Myanmar is warning a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus could take place within its borders as more than 20,000 migrant workers return from neighboring Thailand.

Myanmar's Health and Sports Minister U Myint Htwe said Sunday an outbreak could occur among the returning workers, Japanese news service Kyodo News reported Monday.

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More than 1,500 people are confirmed infected with the coronavirus in Thailand, while Myanmar official data indicate only 14 cases, with four new infections reported Monday.

U Myint Htwe also warned of a "large-scale infection" as citizens return across the border.

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The mass migration of 23,000 workers began on March 19, according to The Irrawaddy. Crowds of people were repatriated by land at checkpoints between Thailand and Myanmar.

Myanmar's health ministry has ordered the returnees to isolate themselves at home for 14 days.

One of the returnees, identified as a 44-year-old migrant worker from Thailand, tested positive for the coronavirus.

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U Myint Htwe has called for the collection of data to map the location of returnees and assign them to "restricted areas."

Mapping may have already begun. Under investigation are more than 470 people who had close contact with the country's first eight confirmed patients. All 470 people have been told to self-isolate.

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Earlier in the month, officials in Bangkok issued a shutdown order for businesses, including schools, restaurants and shopping malls, according to Malaysian news service The Star.

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The closure is in effect until April 12.

"I understand well that using my authority to close these venues will lead to economic consequences, but I want each of you to consider the value of life above all else," Bangkok Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang said on March 21.

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