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Radio Free Asia

Vietnam Quarantines Entire Commune of 10,000 on Coronavirus Fears

2020-02-13 -- Authorities in Vietnam have closed off a community of more than 10,000 people near the capital, Hanoi, for the next 20 days on fears that coronavirus (COVID-19) could spread there.

Son Loi commune, in Vinh Phuc province's Binh Xuyen district, is the site of the first mass coronavirus quarantine outside of China.

A local official told Reuters Thursday that the residents of the commune would not be allowed to leave until March 3. The official said that people would be allowed to enter the commune to return home, but that Son Loi would be completely sealed off in the next few days.

The province is home to 11 of Vietnam's confirmed COVID-9 cases, including the country's 16th case, which was reported Thursday by the Health Ministry.

State media said six of Son Loi's eight confirmed cases caught the virus via human-to-human contact inside the commune and that 373 people were under close watch.

Last month eight Vietnamese workers returned to Vinh Phuc province from the global epicenter of COVID-19, Wuhan, China. Six of the repatriated workers later tested positive for the virus.

The 16th case is a 50-year-old man who contracted it from his daughter, who was among the group of workers.

Vietnam's Ministry of Health sent two teams to Vinh Phuc province Thursday to assist with treatment of the infected and to prevent the disease's spread.

COVID-19 kills jobs

Vietnam's Ministry of Labor released a report that more than 9,000 laborers have lost their jobs as businesses have either closed down or streamlined their operations due to fears over coronavirus.

The ministry reported that a total of 322 out of more than 180,000 businesses in 22 provinces and province-level cities have temporarily shut down, while 553 are operating at a reduced capacity. 25 of 5,000 cooperatives have also shut down.

The report also said that some 15,000 Chinese nationals were working in Vietnam, with more than 7,300 remaining in the country during Tet (Lunar New Year). But more than 7,600 traveled to China and have been reentering Vietnam since.

About 5,100 Chinese workers in 44 provinces and province-level cities have been quarantined in their places of work, dormitories, and hotels and those suspected to be infected with the virus are being closely observed by local clinics.

The ministry also said that Vietnam is facing difficulty in identifying the places of origin of those who are applying for work permits.

COVID-19 decimates Myanmar-China trade

Myanmar, which also shares a long land border with China, is losing nearly U.S. $20 million per day in trade with its neighbor as fears over the virus have all but shut down bilateral trade between the two countries, an economic official said.

Deputy Minister Aung Htoo of Myanmar's Economic and Trade Ministry told RFA's Myanmar Service that because of the virus, daily trade revenue was down to less than 5 percent of normal.

"Before there was any coronavirus in China, the daily trade value we were seeing was between $15 million and $20 million. But we recorded only $500,000 over the last couple of days," he said.

"We are looking for ways to find alternate markets by consulting with foreign countries' economic counselors, but this issue is hitting the entire global market," said the deputy minister.

He added that Chinese authorities could reopen some of the closed border gates as early as Feb. 27, and that in the meantime Myanmar was looking to sell reserves of watermelons and muskmelons in either Laos or Singapore.

Aung Thet Oo, the vice chairman of the fruit market in Muse told RFA, "Our trade with China has fallen by 70%. We can only export 30% of our fruit so farmers and traders are really losing business."

Under normal circumstances more than 50% of Myanmar's farm production is exported to China.

Meanwhile, across the river from Muse in the Chinese border town of Ruili, a 49-year-old Chinese man named Hong Chang Yan turned himself in at a police station on Feb 7. Hong was one of five people wanted by Chinese authorities for illegally fleeing Wuhan, which is under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Chinese police reached out to Myanmar's police for assistance. The police in Myanmar are still searching for three other men, who are all believed to have recently visited Muse. Hong was the second of the group of five to be apprehended. A woman had been found in Pangsan in northeast Myanmar prior to Hong's surrender.

A local police chief in Myanmar said they have been searching areas requested by the Chinese government, but as the three are believed to have entered Myanmar illegally, it is possible that they may no longer be in the country.

Myanmar has not reported a single confirmed coronavirus case so far.

Cambodia welcomes cruise ship

Cambodia's Ministry of Health said the MS Westerdam, which was denied entry at five Asian ports prior to docking in Sihanoukville Thursday, is coronavirus-free.

Twenty tourists on board were found in ill health but officials were able to confirm their virus-free status after their blood samples were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Phenom Penh.

According to the BBC, the 1,455 passengers will begin to disembark Friday morning.

Preah Sihanouk's provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun said that authorities will transport them by bus to the airport in provincial capital Kang Keng, to catch flights to the international airport in Phnom Penh so they can return home from there.

After the ship docked, ambassadors from the United States, France, Canada and Australia, as well as other countries visited the Westerdam.

U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy posted a video message on Twitter to thank the Cambodian government for allowing the ship to dock.

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that Cambodia "exemplifies the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for." He thanked the government, saying it was "time for solidarity, not stigma."

Prior to docking in Sihanoukville, the Westerdam had been denied entry by Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, and Japan.

Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, is docked in Yokohama, Japan, where health officials confirmed that 218 passengers have tested positive for coronavirus.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service, Thiha Tun, Nandar Chann, and Kan Thar for RFA's Myanmar Service, and RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Hey Le, Nayrein Kyaw, Nandar Chann, and Pheap Aun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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