Min Tun | DMG
20 June, Sittwe

Seating arrangements on board ferries transporting passengers between the Arakan State capital Sittwe and its outlying townships are under scrutiny in the age of coronavirus.

The local government has directed the Shwe Pyi Tan and Malikha boat services running between Sittwe and several other Arakan State townships to sell ferry tickets in numbers below full capacity, and to help passengers practice social distancing by allowing for seating 3 feet apart.

But public health concerns are growing, according to some ferry passengers, who claim boat services that once followed the rules strictly now sell tickets for all seats on board, in breach of the local government’s directive.

“We are worried about our health because we have to sit next to each other. I want the boat services to abide by the government’s guidance,” said U Aye Hla Tun, a ferryboat passenger from Minbya Township.

Mindful of the continuing health risks, some Shwe Pyi Tan boat service employees are reportedly using loudspeakers to urge passengers to wear face masks, wash their hands systematically, and submit to temperature checks before boarding the ferries.

Ko Aung Than Oo, assistant manager for Shwe Pyi Tan, said passengers should not worry about their safety because only two passengers will be allowed to sit on a three-seat bench on the company’s ferries beginning in July in order to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients in Arakan State’s Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Taungup and Thandwe townships stands at nine, with the cases thus far concentrated in the state’s north.

“We dare not touch personal belongings owned by passengers coming from Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships for fear of being infected with coronavirus,” said U Maung Hlaing San, a motorbike driver operating between Sittwe and nearby ports and jetties.

Residents have asked the local Department of Health to tighten up public health measures in heavily trafficked spaces such as jetties, ports and markets.

Myanmar had 287 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, including six deaths, as of June 20, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.

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