Dr. May Thida Aung
PhD Graduate of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
On 21 March, unwelcomed visitor COVID-19 had started infecting Myanmar, a country with a population of about 53 Million. At the time of writing, there have already been a total of eight COVID-19 cases, one of which from local transmission.
The Government had already announced additional precautionary restrictions for travelers visiting the country. It had also decided to suspend entry visas for visitors from all countries until 30 April 2020. Meanwhile, it has been announced that all events involving large gatherings will be postponed until the end of April, which is highly likely to be extended. Due to the increasing number of imported positive cases, all passengers of incoming flights are required to submit medical clearance forms and undergo 14-day quarantine.
The Ministry of Health and Sports, the focal government body, has been issuing the vital information from travel advisories to precautionary public health and safety measures since early January 2020 through various media. The Central Committee on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, chaired by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, has been meeting regularly and developing a mitigation plan for potential impacts (Myanmar Government, 2020.) The order for the township level cooperation plan has just been announced by the Ministry of Union Government Office.
There are no clear action plans on how to effectively enforce physical distancing rule particularly among the grassroots populations. Being a developing country with weak healthcare system and limited intensive care facilities, prevention of transmission proves to be an arduous task. Vulnerable poor households may not afford and access basic personal protection, such as surgical masks and glove, hand sanitizers, etc, which are already sold almost double that the usual price. Furthermore, substandard living conditions make them more vulnerable to getting infected.
Regardless government’s strong encouragement to stay at home to prevent being infected or spreading virus, those from poor households are unable to stay home. They are still struggling to fend for their daily basic needs. Local individuals or groups are already supplying personal protective things and daily basic commodities for vulnerable populations. But, provisions are done unsystematically, breaking the key purpose of physical distancing (The Irrawaddy, 2020.) At the same time, thousands of garment factories’ workers have gone on strike in light of factory shut downs, cutting down of the operation hours and force retrenchment of workers. This had already severely impacted livelihood of women factory workers (Wathan, 2020.) According to reports, it is expected that more than 15,000 workers would go jobless (Htoon, 2020), making containment measures more difficult to enforce.
The situation in Myanmar does not only speak volumes of dangers to rights to health and livelihood of vulnerable peoples, but also it highlights the need for a more strategic stance on virus prevention and control throughout the country. Despite low number of cases, the government should prepare itself for the worst in light of Covid-19. It must put people’s needs and concerns, specially the most vulnerable and marginalised, at the centre of its strategies and public policy.
Government of Myanmar, (17 March 2020), State Counsellor adopts guidelines at COVID-19 Prevention Central Committee Meeting, https://www.statecounsellor.gov.mm/en/node/2846
Kyaw Lin Htoon (14 March 2020), Melons rot, factories shutter: Myanmar’s COVID-10 fallout, Frontier, https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/melons-rot-factories-shutter-myanmars-covid-19-fallout
Min Wathan (27 March 2020), Thousands of Myanmar garment workers go on strike to save jobs, The Myanmar Times, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/thousands-myanmar-garment-workers-go-strike-save-jobs.html-0
The Irrawaddy, (28 March 2020), Myanmar Takes on COVID-19: Is the country prepared?, https://www.irrawaddy.com/dateline/myanmar-takes-covid-19-country-prepared.html