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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar traders worry COVID-19 outbreak in Muse will hinder China trade

2022.02.17 -- Traders at the Chinese border in Myanmar are concerned that a resurgence of COVID-19 in the country could once again shut down border trade.

More than 30 people tested positive for the virus inside the 105 Mile Border Trade Zone, centered around the town of Muse, between Feb. 11 and 17.

Traffic increased between those dates and so did COVID testing, which may be behind the recent case surge, Kyaw Than, the chairman of the locally based Parami Social Aid Organization, told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"Before, very few vehicles were coming in and the screening and testing for COVID-19 was also not very extensive. As far as I know, the incoming vehicles really increased only after the 11th," said Kyaw Than.

"The testing and screening became more common later. I think that's why they found more infected people," he said. "They are more focused on testing the truck drivers and helpers now."

Positive cases are treated at a 1,000-bed COVID treatment center in the zone, Kyaw Than said.

Perishable goods are now sold at a huge loss because the traders are worried that Chinese authorities might shut down border traffic due to the resurgence of the virus, Sai Khin Maung, a fruit trader, told RFA.

"There are several restrictions to get to China side. We have to spray sanitizer on the cargo and wait for 24 hours. Then it has to keep another 48 hours on China side," he said.

"It takes several steps. They might shut down the border if the number of positive cases spike on the Myanmar side. This is not predictable, but we are already losing money on certain items and dealing with additional expenses," he said.

Myanmar's chief exports to China include rice, beans, corn, sugar, fish paste and dried fish.

Many trucks filled with corn are stuck on the Myanmar side of the border, Khun Min Thant, a corn trader, told RFA.

"There is a quota for corn... The Chinese government permits only so much corn imports. Corn simply cannot be easily exported like other commodities," Khun Min Thant said.

"Usually, they issue trading permits in June and August, but last year they started issuing them in October due to the pandemic. At that time the border gates were closed, and by the time the gates were opened, the permits expired," he said.

Chinese authorities extended the expiration dates of the permits after heavy lobbying by the trading companies.

"Our company alone has 7,000 tons of corn. So far, only 1,000 tons have been sent. There is corn from other companies," Khun Min Thant said.

A Myanmar trader in Wanding on the Chinese side of the border told RFA Feb. 15 that the town has been under lockdown after Chinese authorities found an infected patient there. The lockdown order was lifted Thursday morning. The trader said the case shows the steps China is willing to take to contain the virus.

China shut down all the border gates on July 8, 2021, during the pandemic, blocking all border traffic.

Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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