Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Kachin State Govt Says It Lacks Authority to Close Border

Kambaiti border pass in Kachin State, northern Burma.

The Kachin State government does not have the authority to shut down border gates with China amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the state’s immigration minister has said.

Minister Zaw Win told KNG that despite local calls to close borders and prevent the spread of the virus, only the Union government in Naypyidaw could make the decision to do so.

“The Kambaiti and Loije border gates do not operate under the state government. The Union government operates these border checkpoints,” he explained. “According to the MoU between China and Burma in 1997, the Union government has full authority to operate these border gates. But the Kachin State government runs the Pangwah gate. If we need to shut down, we will close the Pangwah gate.”

The Burmese government announced on Monday the first two cases of coronavirus in the country, from two men who had recently returned from the US and UK, respectively. Hundreds of thousands of cases have been documented globally, and more than 15,000 people have died from the virus, which was first found in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

In the three months that followed, some 46,000 Burmese nationals crossed into China though the Loije border gate, 37,000 of whom returned. The numbers for Chinese nationals were around 3,000. Meanwhile, more than 17,000 Chinese nationals traveled to and from Burma through the Kambaiti border gate, and more than 10,000 Burmese nationals returned to the country.

Through Pangwah, around 8,000 Chinese nationals traveled back and forth across the border during the last three months, along with 2,000 Burmese nationals.

“The number of travelers has increased in March. There are more travelers than January. It’s because it’s time to harvest tissue-culture bananas. There are more vehicles and people crossing the checkpoints,” immigration minister Zaw Win said.

He reaffirmed the government’s statement that there are no cases of coronavirus in Burma.

“There has been only one suspected case of COVID-19 found. According to the results of a medical examination, the patient didn’t have any infection,” he said.

The government’s previous claims that the virus had not entered the country were questioned by locals, human rights advocates and health professionals, who instead point to Burma’s lack of testing technology and weak health infrastructure as an explanation of why no cases—and now only two—have been confirmed.

The Kachin State government has canceled upcoming festivals, including the annual water festival, Thingyan, to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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