COVID-19 Op-ed

The Daunting Arrival of Covid-19 in Myanmar and A Worrisome Future for A High-Risk Nation

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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.References:Government
of Myanmar, (17 March 2020), State Counsellor adopts guidelines at COVID-19
Prevention Central Committee Meeting, https://www.statecounsellor.gov.mm/en/node/2846Kyaw
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-falloutMin
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-0The
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

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