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Covid outbreak in southern China, troops mass on Myanmar border

(ATF) Migrants from Myanmar are suspected to have caused a new outbreak of Covid-19 in southern China, state media has suggested.

China reported its biggest daily jump in new Covid-19 cases in more than two months in Ruili – a city on the border with Myanmar in southwestern Yunnan province.

Ruili’s local government imposed a lockdown on residents in its urban area last Wednesday after six cases of the coronavirus were found and launched a massive testing drive, while restricting people from entering and leaving the city.

Ruili is a major trading point located opposite the town of Muse, in Myanmar’s northern Shan State. Health advocates in Southeast Asia previously described the town as a hub for HIV/Aids, because of the number of truck drivers that travelled there and the smuggling of illegal migrants from Myanmar.

The city accounted for all of the 15 new local cases reported on April 4. The total number of new Covid-19 infections, including imported infections originating from overseas, stood at 32, marking the highest total since January 31.

Genetic analysis of the cases discovered in Ruili suggest the new local infections stem from viruses imported from Myanmar, state media reported. Of the new patients reported in the city, 11 of them were identified as Myanmar citizens.

Ruili is a key transit point for Yunnan province, which has struggled to monitor its rugged 4,000 km (2,500-mile) border with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam for illegal immigration amid a wave of unauthorised crossings last year by people seeking a haven from the pandemic.

Local authorities have also begun a vaccination drive in Ruili in a bid to contain Covid-19 and build up herd immunity in the city.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 18, matching the total from a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 90,305, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636, Reuters reported.

Chinese troops reported near border

Meanwhile, there have also been reports of Chinese troops gathering in Jiegao, near Ruili. Irrawaddy reported last week that many Chinese soldiers and military trucks have arrived at the border. It said sources from ethnic armed groups said Beijing was sending a warning signal to Myanmar.

“TVBS News in Taiwan reported that Chinese troops are there to protect the natural gas pipeline without suggesting how,” the report said.

About a month ago, China asked Myanmar’s military regime to protect the oil and gas pipelines that run from Kyauk Phyu in Rakhine State on the Bay of Bengal through Magwe and Mandalay regions and northern Shan State into southern China – a distance of about 800km, because of anti-Chinese sentiment among the mass protests, with threats to boycott Chinese products and to blow up the pipelines.

China has said that the military takeover is an internal affair in Myanmar, but protesters have argued that Beijing is defending the junta in emergency talks at the United Nations Security Council.

Meanwhile, ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar which have close relations with China – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army – have warned that they would collaborate with other rebel armies and pro-democracy supporters to defend civilians from the regime’s brutal crackdowns.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters


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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Bangkok since 2000, working as a senior editor at The Nation for 17 years. He worked initially for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through Southeast Asia in the late 90s. He has a family in Bangkok and has travelled through much of Asia.

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