As the virus has spread across the region, some governments have remained in denial.
At one hospital in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, a slide show during a presentation on preventing the spread of coronavirus said: “Don’t be so afraid of the coronavirus. It won’t last long because ‘made in China.’”
“Health is not a joke, and the virus is not a joke either,” said Aung Aung, a surgeon at Mandalay General Hospital. “I don’t think Myanmar has the modern techniques to know whether the virus is here.”
On Friday, Myanmar announced its first suspected case, involving a Chinese man who had arrived by plane from Guangzhou. Myanmar does not have the capacity to test for this specific coronavirus, said U Zaw Htay, a government spokesman. Any samples will need to be sent to Thailand or Hong Kong, which could take up to a week.
Even high-level officials have been trading in folk remedies. After a Facebook user in Myanmar wrote a widely read tribute to onions as a way to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, the chief minister of Tanintharyi Division, U Myint Mg, shared the post on his Facebook page.
“The Chinese government has announced that people should consume and have on hand as many onions as they can,” the post read, with no basis in fact.
Cambodia has only one confirmed case of the deadly virus, involving a Chinese national in the boomtown of Sihanoukville, which has been remade by an influx of tens of thousands of Chinese workers. About 3,000 travelers from Wuhan have flown to Cambodia since the epidemic was announced last month, according to Cambodian civil aviation authorities.
In a country with limited media freedoms, some Cambodians worry that the full scope of the virus’s potential impact is not being reported for political reasons. The country’s health minister suggested that Cambodia’s hot and humid climate could ward off the coronavirus.