“I had a conversation with someone yesterday, who told me that thanks to God, there is not a single Christian who has been infected with the virus,” Pastor David Lah declared, wagging his finger at the audience in a recorded sermon posted on social media.
“I can guarantee that the church that goes by Jesus’s teaching, there will be no infection,” added Lah, as he waved a bible in the air at an event held earlier this month, in defiance of the Myanmar government’s order banning religious gatherings due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Days later, Lah tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the rapidly spreading coronavirus. He and three other people have also been charged with violation of the country’s Natural Disaster Management Law.
According to local news reports, as of Friday, at least 22 coronavirus cases were linked to the religious event that Lah hosted, including the pastor himself and famous Myanmar Christian rock singer Myo Gyi.
As of Saturday, Myanmar has recorded at least 94 cases of infections and five deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. Many of the new cases have no recent travel history and no contact with recent travellers.
Myanmar has been slow to roll out testing for coronavirus, having only tested approximately 3,200 people so far. At the end of March, it had tested 500 people out of a population of 54 million.
Andrew Tatem, an epidemiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, said more testing would uncover more confirmed cases, a crucial component in finding and isolating patients, as well as guiding government response.
“Typically, the more you look, the more you find,” he told Al Jazeera.
Myanmar banned international flights at the end of March and has been trying to quarantine the thousands of migrant workers returning from Thailand by land. But some fear it may be too late.
“Banning international flights may have little significant impact if the virus is already widespread,” Tatem said, while noting that Myanmar’s rate of testing is still too low to determine whether the virus is circulating in the country.
Tatem said while lockdowns “appear” to be working in other countries, they must be paired with policies that should be put in place after the lockdowns are lifted.