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  • Writer's pictureAnand Tumurtogoo

Virus sows confusion as miners warn of possible Chinese border shutdown

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Mongolia reported its first local transmission of the coronavirus on November 11. 

A truck driver arrived from Russia last month and has become the source of an initial cluster of seven people. The driver tested positive four days after his 21 day mandatory quarantine. 

It is unclear how the driver was infected: Health Minister Munkhsaikhan Togtmol said the driver might have caught the virus during quarantine, but no further explanation was given on how the government knew the driver was infected after he came out of quarantine. 

One day later, the National Emergency Committee (NEC) told the public that a 74-year-old woman tested positive for the virus in Selenge province in northern Mongolia.

Then, on November 13, the health ministry said that the 74-year-old’s daughter-in-law and her  8-year-old grandchild had also tested positive. The family came to Darkhan-Uul province from Selenge on the 8th and 9th of this month and visited five major shopping centers in Darkhan, according to B.Azjargal, the head of the province's special commission, in an interview with TV-5. 

So as of November 13, Mongolia has two clusters of Covid-19 with no connection to one another.

On the evening of November 11, the NEC ordered a strict five-day quarantine to keep non-essential workers at home. The Health Ministry said there’s a high risk of the virus spreading.

There’s a high likelihood the virus came through Russia, as all cases either live near the Russian border or have been to Russia. Almost 80 percent of Mongolia’s imported cases so far have arrived from Russia. 

The government said it would order the closure of port borders and limit access to other border crossings with Russia from November 16 to January 18, 2021. The government also said that trade routes won’t be disrupted, the border to China remains open and exports are running on time. 

A photo of UB taken after the first case of local transmission was reported. (Credit: Anand)
A photo of UB taken after the first case of local transmission was reported. (Credit: Anand)

However, people in the provinces have said online that there’s a lack of understanding between the NEC and lower government organizations around Mongolia, with no clear guidance on what actions need to be taken.

For example, a reporter asked authorities in Selenge province about childcare arrangements for essential government workers.

The official gave a vague answer: “Respective departments and agencies will take the lead on that.” 

When the lockdown took effect, it also became difficult to travel within Ulaanbaatar as police ordered people to take public transport instead of their own cars (despite complaints that the virus is far more likely to spread on a crowded bus).

Meanwhile, sources in the mining industry have warned that if the government doesn’t get a handle on the virus, China will deem Mongolia a risk and will close its borders. This would put a major damper on Mongolia’s state budget and threaten coal exports, which have risen dramatically since August. 

We’ll also keep an eye on how the lockdown affects the current government’s approval rating amongst the public.

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