Burma-China Border Remains Open Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Kambaiti border pass, the biggest China border trade gate in Kachin State, northern Burma. Photo: Dr. Thein Myo

While checkpoints along the Thai-Burma border closed this week, traffic continues as usual along Burma’s border with China, local sources have said.

Kachin State has three border crossings with China: Kambaiti, Loije, and Pangwah.

“There are two confirmed cases of coronavirus found in Burma, but they didn’t come through the Kambaiti and Loije border checkpoints,” Kachin State immigration minister Zaw Win told KNG, referring to the government statement released on Monday evening.

Burma’s government has been slow to confirm any cases of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, but initially announced two infections on March 23, and another just before the time of reporting on Wednesday.

“Our country is weak in its healthcare system. China is worried about people infected with the virus going to China through the border checkpoints,” Zaw Win said. “We received a tele-message from Chinese authorities in Tengchong [in Yunnan Province]. They told us to monitor both Chinese and Burmese travelers for 14 days who pass the border checkpoints. The Chinese authorities have closed the border checkpoints for vehicle entry.”

Chinese authorities say that they will monitor everyone traveling into their country for 14 days.

The Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) sent a letter to the state government on March 19 asking to close the Kambaiti border crossing to fight the spread of the virus. However, state officials say that only the Union government has the power to close the border. They remain open.

Immigration minister Zaw Win said that the state government is preparing to form village-level monitoring groups to check on visitors and returnees from other countries.

“Village-level monitoring groups will collect information about how many people are returning from China, the US, and other countries. After that they will have to report it to the township level,” he explained. “If we get a report about it, we will work together with the health department and monitor these people.”

The authorities will reportedly “take action” against people who return from foreign countries and fail to report to their local monitoring group.

On March 13, two MPs from Kachin State asked the President’s Office to ban vehicles associated with tissue-culture banana cultivation from crossing through Kambaiti. They continue to cross daily.

Ze Hkawng, an Upper House MP from Kachin State, told KNG that the lack of manpower available to monitor all of the people entering the country will likely lead to an imminent border shutdown, and that verbal orders are being made to do so. However, KNG could not confirm this at the time of reporting.

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