COVID-19 Op-ed

COVID-19 in Myanmar: A Ticking Time Bomb

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Dr. Su Yin HtunAssociate
Professor, Department of Law, Mandalay, Myanmar

Compared
with its neighbors, Myanmar reported it first case of the Coronavirus only on
23 March 2020, at the height of the pandemic. In fact, prior to the
declaration of the first case, foreign diplomatic communities have already
raised concerns about a potential catastrophe in the country. As of
2nd April 2020, 20 confirmed cases had been reported
in Tee-tain, Yangon, Mandalay, Kyauk-Mei and Pauk Khaung. Of these, 14 are
imported cases and six are from local transmission. Among the affected areas,
the pandemic’s impact on Yangon is expected to be the epicenter of the
outbreak, it is congested area with a 5 million population. On the day of
writing this article, a 69 year- old COVID-19 patient who suffered from nasal
cancer reportedly died in Waibargi Hospital in Yangon.In order to combat the
spread of the virus, Myanmar government has formed on 13 March 2020 the
national-level Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi
and on 30 March, the Emergency Response Committee to Control COVID-19 chaired
by Vice President. Although the government announced the temporary suspension
of all types of visas for foreign nationals from all countries visiting
Myanmar, nationals and migrants from other countries are allowed to enter in
the border checkpoints and international airports as well.In the meantime,
people may suffer substantive rights and procedural rights, such as the right
to life, right to health and right to information by infection of COVID-19.
Among these, marginalized people, migrants and refugees are the most
vulnerable people. As legal migrants entered from Thailand into the Myawaddy
township in in Kayin State, there was a lack of virus testing systems, and
poor crowd control to ensure social distancing. The international airport is
not better with safety measures to test virus for arrivals that resulted in
the discovery of 14 positive cases from abroad. Currently, many garment
factories, local markets, restaurants and some shopping malls have already
shut down for several reasons such as the shortage of raw materials,
restrictions of exports, and unexpected risks. Because of this, unemployment
problems are expected, and the GDP growth will shrink.The government
officially declared the Arakan Army as terrorist group on 24 March. The
ongoing internal armed conflicts in Rakhine State may create a humanitarian
crisis. Due to the conflicts, people will encounter force-displacement and
lack of adequate living standards without any health care. Furthermore,
displaced Rohingya people, now estimated to number of approximately one
million in Myanmar refugee camps and hundreds of thousands in Cox’s Bazar in
Bangladesh. The crowded camp conditions and poor health infrastructure is
expected to worsen the impact of Covid-19.Moreover, the Government has
blocked internet access in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States
threatening the people’s right to access critical information on the
pandemic, among others. At this time, this right is critical and urgently
needed by everyone with the disease being an imminent threat to people lives.
People need to get information through all channels both traditional and
digital means. Presently, most information may be obtained from daily
newspapers, and social media mainly Facebook. According to Internet World
Stats, some 40.8% of entire population in Myanmar are Facebook users.
However, the rest of the population may not be able to access social media
and may rely on traditional radio and television channels. From my own
observation, TV channels give information through formal news in MRTV, MWD,
MITV, including very small text the bottom of the screen in some programs on
“breaking news”. And, not much news is available in English language in order
for foreigners to better understand the situation in Myanmar. In addition,
225 websites are tremendously banned pursuant to S.77 of Telecommunication
Law that is provided for national security. And, government pronounced that
fake news and rumors will be punished by S.12 of Prevention and Control of
Communicable Disease Law.Myanmar government is now trying to prevent and
control of COVID-19 by improving public health services. The Ministry of
Health and Sports is particularly responsible to fulfill the right to health.
Though this is not enough, especially for a country already affected by
conflicts, poverty and corruption. At present, however, there is inadequate
treatment equipment and medicine for the needs of the country. Refugees are
especially at risk since there is no policy to provide humanitarian aid and
health care measures for them. Furthermore, the Myanmar National Human Rights
Commission has been silent on providing human rights protection on vulnerable
people. It is quite certain that the longer the corona virus pandemic lasts,
the more vulnerable the people will become. In conclusion, humanitarian
assistance together with full protection of rights and freedoms should be the
essential focus for refugees, marginalized people and daily workers in time
of COVID-19.ReferencesArticle
19, Myanmar immediately lift ban on ethnic news websites, https://www.article19.org/resources/myanmar-immediately-lift-ban-on-ethnic-news-websites/Global
Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018, UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/statisticshttps://www.mohs.gov.mmhttps://www.moi.gov.mmhttps://www.statecounsellor.gov.mmhttps://www.president-office.gov.mmInternet
Usage in Asia as of 31st January 2020, https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htmMorten
Kjaerum
, The Coronavirus & Human Rights, BlogCOVID-19
& Human Rights
  31 March, 2020, https://rwi.lu.se/2020/03/the-coronavirus-human-rights/?fbclid=IwAR0mW99dakTVXkQQiYsBWBPlc3_5XE5cJRdd5AVepOD3Fp9GlAOyHMdvtMNyein
Nyein, Myanmar Govt declares Arakan Army as Terrorist Group, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-govt-declares-arakan-army-terrorist-group.htmlYangon,
Myanmar Population 1950-2020, https://www.macrotrends.
net/cities/20339/yangon/population
Zaw Oo, Myanmar must be prepared
to deal with economic fallout from spread of COVID-19, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-must-be-prepared-deal-economic-fallout-spread-covid-19.html 

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