Information last updated: May 5, 2020
Air travel is suspended until May 31, and borders with Thailand were closed until April 30. Gatherings of more than four people are prohibited across the country, and a curfew is current in place in nine out of the 14 states in the country, with some regions reducing the number of hours for curfew. Most of the cases have been reported in Yangon State.
Response set up and capacity
While the first case in Myanmar was only reported on March 23, the country has been preparing for the pandemic since February, with the intensification of public health measures in mid-March, and scaled-up measures in April.
Despite the apparent low number of confirmed cases in the country, the government and development partners recognize and acknowledge an elevated risk of a national outbreak and rapid spread, given internal vulnerabilities and porous borders, vibrant trade and migration with China and Thailand. The Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) has warned the country is at very high risk of a “major outbreak”.
Entities / Organizations
• Committee for COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response, led by the first Vice President
• Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) leads coordination on public health at union and state levels
• Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MoSWRR) leads coordination at national and local levels on prevention, preparedness and response in IDP camps.
• Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population leads national coordination for returning migrants
• Other relevant ministries and entities are engaged in coordination across different sectors (Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry- MoPFI; Ministry of Education; …)
• Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) group co-led by the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) with WHO and UNICEF.
• State Governments
• Village authorities
• National Health Laboratory (NHL)
• Global humanitarian response is coordinated by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) and Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), in collaboration with national and international organizations, CSOs and Red Cross Movement.
• At state-level: COVID-19 task teams, chaired by OCHA, consist of clusters (Camp Management, Health, WASH, …)/sectors coordinators and key international and national NGOs and CSOs.
• Coordination is also led at inter-cluster level by OCHA.
• Logistics coordination group, led by the World Food Programme (WFP)
• In Rakhine State: Communications with Communities (CWC) working group convening the UN, INGOs, and national and local organizations.
• Active UN agencies: WHO (major support to the MoHS), UNOPS (delivers testing kits), WFP (Food and Nutrition Assistance, Supply Chain and Logistics Coordination, Aviation Service Support), IOM (coordination for the returning migrant workers), UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR, UN Women, UNHCR, ILO, …
• Local organizations: The Joint Strategy Team (JST): a coordinating body established by nine local humanitarian groups in Kachin and northern Shan states; The Humanitarian Strategic Team of Northern Shan State (HST-NSS); Ethnic organizations, and Civil society organizations.
Mitigating factors - What is being done?
- 10 February: MoHs launched an initial Flash Proposal with an appeal for US $5M for Preparedness and Response.
- 23 February: MoHS warns of the risk of COVID-19 outbreak in Myanmar and urges to avoid mass gatherings.
- 13 March: The government established the Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19 led by the State Counsellor. In addition to this, all festivities are ordered to shutdown, and regional governments instruct organizations to and government departments to avoid organizing meetings until April 30.
- 16 March: Movie theaters and entertainment venues, except for restaurants, are shut down until further notice. All state and private educational institutions are closed until April 30 (later conditional planned for June 1).
- 19 March: Suspension of entry of foreign national through all land border checkpoints.
- 23 March: First two confirmed cases of Covid-19.
- 24 March: MoSWRR launches an “Action Plan for the Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks at IDPs Camps”.
- 13 April: Entry points along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border are closed.
- 14 April: MoSWRR put in lace preventive measures in IDP camps such as scanning body temperatures when entering the camps and distribution of soaps, masks and infrared thermometers.
- 29 March: Incoming travelers require COVID-19 free certificate in addition to 14 day quarantine at national facilities. Issuance of all types of visas to foreign nationals are suspended.
- 30 March: Establishment of a Committee for COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response, led by the Vice President. Myanmar nationals in Thailand have been told not to return until April 30.
- 31 March: All inbound international flights except for relief, cargo and medical evacuation are suspended until 13 April. This is later extended until May 15.
- 5 April: Release of the “Action Plan for the Control of COVID-19 Outbreak in IDPs Camps” targeting 184,333 IDPs hosted in 128 camps.
- 4 April: In prevention of the Water Festive (Myanmar New Year Festival) residents are strongly advised to stay home and public transportation networks are shut down.
- 17 April: A presidential pardon release from prison close to 25,000 people, including close to 900 Rohingya) – they are to be quarantined for 21 days. Gatherings of more than four people are prohibited and most large gatherings are later prohibited until May 15.
- 18 April: A curfew is imposed until further notice in nine out of 14 states and regions in Myanmar, including the capital Nay Pyi Taw and the commercial hub Yangon.
- 19 April: Factories cannot reopen before being inspected by the Health Ministry to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety measures. MoHS releases the “Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 Disease in Factories, Workplaces and Construction Sites”.
- 23 April: All directives announced by the Central Committee on Prevention, Controlling and Treatment of Covid-19 are now effective until May 15. Remote work is advised until May 15.
- 27 April: MoPFI issues a comprehensive economic stimulus plan (CERP).
- 28 April: Formation of a coordination and cooperation committee to work with Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs).
In addition and to counter many rumors and fake news, the country’s Ministry of Health and Sports launched a website with videos about the virus, the latest data, and updates on the latest number of cases and lab results. As of April 20, Risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) have reached out to almost all IDP camps, displacement sites and several villages with key messages on COVID-19.
With regards to the medical response, the government of Myanmar continues to increase testing. A total of 1,967 persons have been tested across the country as of 20 April. The National Health Laboratory (NHL – main testing lab) is soon expecting the arrival of an additional testing machine, which would increase capacity to conduct up to 1,000 tests daily compared to 300-500 tests currently, while proposals are being discussed to establish additional testing laboratories in Mon, Mandalay and northern Shan. As of 18 April, more than 7,700 quarantine facilities have been established across the country, aimed at, among other things, responding to the return of migrant workers.
In terms of aid and funds raised, as of April 20, over US$29 million has been received or committed to the 2020 HRP, amounting to 15% of total requirements. Other humanitarian funding received (outside of the HRP) totals nearly US$40 million. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated US$75 million to the COVID-19 response globally and a US$70 million fund have been set up by the Government of Myanmar to provide immediate loans to enterprises. The World Bank has fast-tracked the approval of US$50 million in loan financing for the Myanmar COVID-19 Emergency Response Project.
Risks, vulnerabilities, obstacles
Myanmar continues to present a complex context with ongoing socio-economic and political challenges:
- Armed conflict, inter-communal violence, chronic poverty, protracted displacement, food insecurity, limited social support networks, and underlying inequalities including statelessness, segregation, discrimination, and gender disparities.
- The country ranks 22 out of 178 countries in the 2018 OECD list of fragile states and is classified as a high risk country according to the Index for Risk Management (INFORM), ranking 17 out of 191 countries.
- Furthermore, Myanmar is subject to high tuberculosis and HIV infections and extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and landslides.
- An estimated 24.8 percent of its 54 million population live near or below the poverty line. Many struggle with inadequate physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, with women, girls, persons with disabilities and minorities affected most.
- According to the latest Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP 2020), 986 000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country, of which 76% are located in Rakhine State.
- Malnutrition is a major challenge, especially since the average retail price of rice in April increased compared to March (ex: 12% in Shan State) and rice shortages were reported in northern Rakhine and in northern Shan.
- As of 29 April, over 60,000 workers across the country have lost their jobs.
Public health system is weak:
- As of March 20, Myanmar has 0.71 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed and 0.46 ventilator per 100,000 population. This is considered very low, when compared to countries in the region (ex: India has 2.3 beds per 100,000 population).
Continued conflict is a major impediment in the fight against COVID-19:
- Despite the peace agreements signed in 2015 and democratic elections in 2016, decades of protracted armed conflicts and inter-ethnic violence persist in many parts of Myanmar (mostly in Rakhine and Shan States) and have resulted in multiple population displacements.
- There are 274,000 estimated IDP who are highly vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 due to difficult and unsanitary living and working conditions and economic precarity.
- The volatile security situation is a consequent constraint for humanitarian response:
- WFP was unable to reach more than 1.400 beneficiaries in several parts of Rakhine States.
- On 20 April, a staff of WHO died because of a security incident in Rakhine State.
The likelihood of undetected COVID-19 cases imported by a wave of returning Myanmar workers from Thailand is high:
- As of 23 April, a total of 60,363 migrants had returned to Myanmar (since the state of emergency and the closure of shops and factories in Thailand). The real number of returns is considerably higher if returns from other countries (including China), and through unofficial border crossings are included.
- Seven quarantine facilities have been set-up at the border for migrants arriving from Thailand, but the majority have been home-quarantining due to insufficient capacity in the sites.
- The majority of home communities are in rural areas unprepared for monitoring, testing and treating of COVID-19 cases
- The socioeconomic impacts on migrants and their families are expected to become increasingly severe due to loss of livelihoods and income, including remittances.
Potential actions and demands
Y. Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, calls on Myanmar:
- To protect freedom of information: 221 websites are blocked (including news agencies based in ethnic minority states) and there is an internet shutdown in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States since last year. It hampers the right of access to information which is vital during the Covid-19 crisis and hinders humanitarian coordination and operations.
- Not to abuse the crisis to crack down on human rights defenders, journalists and health workers for spreading “fake news”.
- To lift humanitarian restrictions to ensure that people across the country have access to aid without discrimination.
- She also calls for an immediate investigation into the military, following allegations of continuing war crimes and crimes against humanity in western Rakhine and Chin States.
- Authorities measures often lack details or contain incoherent instructions, resulting in a state of confusion among employers and the public. For example, businesses in Myanmar were expecting work to resume on April 20. But at 8pm on April 19, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population announced that factories would be required to remain closed until mandatory government inspections. This last-minute instruction has scrambled business plans and caused disruptions to production.
- There is a demand for one authority that coordinates responses from different ministries and releases the information instead of allowing each department to issue directives on their own.
- OCHA – COVID-19 Situation reports (accessible via Relief Web)
- WHO – COVID-19 Situation reports
- IOM – Myanmar COVID-19 Response Situation (or accessible via Relief Web)
- WFP – Myanmar Country Brief, Myanmar COVID-19 Situation Report
- UNICEF – Myanmar Humanitarian Situation Report
- World Bank – Myanmar COVID-19 Emergency Response Project