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Voting under way in Myanmar’s general election | Myanmar

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Yangon, Myanmar – Polls have opened in Myanmar’s general elections, the only second democratic vote in the Southeast Asian country since the end of 50 years of military rule, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) widely expected to be re-elected.

Sunday’s vote comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar, which has recorded more than 60,000 infections and 1,390 deaths since mid-August.

Opposition parties had called for an election delay over the surge in coronavirus cases, but the governing NLD and the Union Election Commission insisted on forging ahead. Elderly voters were allowed to cast ballots in advance while the government promised to provide adequate personal protective equipment for poll workers and to ensure social distancing at every polling station.

In South Okkalapa township in eastern Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, hundreds of voters – wearing masks, face shields and gloves – lined up outside a polling booth at dawn to cast their ballots.

Voters in the area were choosing between the NLD’s Thet Naing Soe and prominent democracy activist Ko Ko Gyi, who has criticised the governing party for failing to amend the army-drafted constitution, which gives the military 25 percent of seats in parliament.

South Okkalapa resident Aung Myo said he voted for Suu Kyi’s NLD. “She is very strong, strong for the truth and our country,” he told Al Jazeera.

Voters line up to cast their ballots in South Okkalapa township Yangon [Andrew Nachemson/ Al Jazeera]
Resident Aung Myo said he voted for the NLD and for Suu Kyi [Andrew Nachemson/ Al Jazeera] (Al Jazeera)

Su Moe Thant, a 23-year-old student, said she was “excited” to cast her ballot.

“I have some friends who don’t want to vote they don’t like the current political system and don’t want to choose and go for no vote. I really don’t like that, it’s a democracy you can choose whatever you want. You can vote independent but it’s important to vote,” she said.

‘Fundamentally flawed’

More than 37 million people were eligible to vote in the election to choose members for the upper and lower houses in an election the Human Rights Watch has decried as “fundamentally flawed”. The United States-based group last month denounced the exclusion of voters from the ethnic Rohingya minority, the criminal prosecution of government critics, as well as unequal party access to state media.

Polls were also cancelled in ethnic minority areas, with the elections commission citing concerns over security amid fighting between the military and ethnic rebel groups. Worst-affected is Rakhine state, where the military is battling the Arakan Army, a popular rebel group seeking greater autonomy for the Rakhine people.

The cancellation of the vote tilts the electoral field decisively in the NLD’s favour in Rakhine, a state where it is arguably the least popular and analysts have warned that the conflict there may intensify in the wake of the election.

The western state is also home to the persecuted Rohingya minority, who Myanmar views as immigrants from Bangladesh and were barred from registering to vote. More than 730,000 others from the ethnic group fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal military crackdown in 2017, and Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said on Friday that he hoped Sunday’s vote would allow for refugee returns in “safety and dignity”.

Guterres also renewed his appeal for a “ceasefire across the country to allow all to focus on combatting the COVID-19 pandemic” and said he remained “concerned about armed conflict in many areas of Myanmar, especially the intensifying clashes in Rakhine and Chin states”.

For her part, Suu Kyi, in her final campaign speech on Thursday, promised to strengthen democracy if re-elected.

Acknowledging grievances over the organisation of the vote, she said the “the important thing is to solve these problems by peaceful means within the boundaries of the laws,” and urged voters to remain calm and maintain “stability”.

“We must create our own future,” she added.

Analysts are predicting a landslide win for the NLD, but Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing refused to commit to honouring the results of Sunday’s election, criticising “widespread violation of the laws and procedures of the pre-voting process”.

“In 2015, I was asked in an interview. I said if the commission announced that the election was free and fair, we would just accept the result. But now, we are in a situation where we have to be cautious,” he said on Tuesday, referring to the election that brought the NLD to power five years ago.

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the NLD’s main opponent in Sunday’s election.

 



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Chinese cities using anal swabs to screen COVID infections | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Study shows virus traces in faecal samples could remain detectable for a longer time and provide more accurate test results.

Some Chinese cities are using samples taken from the anus to detect potential COVID-19 infections as China steps up screening to make sure no potential carrier of the new coronavirus is missed ahead of next month’s the Lunar New Year holidays when tens of millions of people usually travel home to their families.

China has been battling new pockets of the disease that have appeared in the north and northeast with strict lockdowns and mass testing in a bid to stamp out the outbreaks.

Justifying the decision to take anal swabs, a city official in Weinan in northern Shaanxi province said a 52-year-old man with symptoms including coughing initially tested negative for COVID-19. He was then tested via an anal swab.

The man, who was confined to a centralised facility for medical observation as a close contact of another COVID-19 patient earlier this month, was then confirmed to have the virus, the official told a news conference.

Anal swabs require inserting a cotton swab three to five centimetres (1.2 to two inches) into the anus and gently rotating it.

In a video posted online by state-backed newspaper Global Times, Zhang Wenhong of Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, said that such swabs could be useful in helping minimise the risk of a relapse after recovery.

“There may be traces of the coronavirus detected in the abdominal cavity faeces and intestine,” Zhang was quoted as saying in the report.

Last week, a Beijing city official said that anal swabs were taken from more than 1,000 teachers, staffers and students at a primary school in the city after an infection had been found there. Nose and throat swabs and serum samples were also collected for testing.

Additional tests using anal swabs can pick up infections that other tests miss, as virus traces in faecal samples or anal swabs could remain detectable for a longer time than in samples taken from upper respiratory tract, Dr Li Tongzeng, a respiratory and infectious disease specialist in Beijing city, told state TV last week.

Li added that such samples were only necessarily for key groups such as those under quarantine.

‘Low harm, extreme humiliation’

Stool tests may be more effective than respiratory tests in identifying COVID-19 infections in children and infants since they carry a higher viral load in their stool than adults, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) found in a paper published last year.

Users of China’s Weibo, its Twitter-like social media platform, reacted to the method with a mix of mirth and horror.

“So lucky I returned to China earlier,” one user wrote.

“Low harm, but extreme humiliation,” another said, using a laughing emoticon.

Others who had undergone the procedure chimed in with dark humour.

“I’ve done two anal swabs, every time I did one I had to do a throat swab afterwards – I was so scared the nurse would forget to use a new swab,” one Weibo user joked.



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