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COVID-19: Myanmar’s slow response faces criticism

Just one laboratory, seven microbiologists and four machines testing COVID-19 suspected cases in Myanmar

Kyaw Ye Lynn   | 27.03.2020
COVID-19: Myanmar’s slow response faces criticism

YANGON, Myanmar

Even as the coronavirus of COVID-19 pandemic scare has rendered thousands of people jobless globally, workers are at a Myanmar factory producing protective clothing are working overtime to complete orders.

The workers at a factory, owned by Hong Kong-based Cobes Industries located in Bago, about 80 kilometers (49.7 miles) northeast of commercial capital Yangon, were asked by the management to work on public holidays to meet the demands.

“We are surprised, and of course we are happy to continue working in this situation," said Han Lin, a worker at the factory.

Health Ministry signed a deal with the factory on Wednesday to purchase 100,000 PPE (personal protection equipment) for healthcare and frontline workers to deal with coronavirus suspects and patients, according to Bago Industrial Zone Committee.

“The factory workers are racing against time to meet the deadline,” said an official from the Committee, adding the factory was required to deliver 20,000 PPE to the ministry by the first week of April.

Myanmar confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus on Monday. A third case was reported on the second day on Tuesday. All these patients had returned from aboard.

On Thursday, the government ordered all ministries to ask half of their employees to work form their home in order to break the chain of the virus transmission.

“Most government departments provide buses for their staff. So, it does not matter for civil servants either to work from office or home,” said Than Than Thwe, a director in Yangon regional government office.

She was concerned about employees in private sector who use public transport across the country.

“Taking buses or trains is very risky, I think,” she told Anadolu Agency on phone.

Unemployment greater worry than infection

Thandar Phyo, who works at a shopping mall run by a private company in downtown Yangon, said her greater worry was unemployment rather than getting infected.

“Taking a taxi is expensive that I cannot afford. So, the bus is the only option I have thought I know. It is highly possible to get infected,” she told Anadolu Agency.

“Apart from this job, I have no other income. Then we would not survive for a month without a job,” said the mother of two children. “I have no idea what will happen if it (outbreak) continues over next two or three months,” she said.

Myanmar government then imposed further travel restriction on Wednesday including a 14-day quarantine period for both Myanmar and foreign nationals arriving in the country through Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw international airports.

Myanmar authorities have been preparing quarantine facilities across the country tens of thousands of returnees, mostly migrant workers from neighboring countries, continue to arrive through the country's border gates.

According to the health authority, more than 500 people have been isolated in hospitals and temporary quarantine sites.

It added that there are 275 suspected patients under investigation.

Poor health infrastructure

Although hospitals have been put on high alert after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic, health workers have expressed concern at poor health infrastructure in the country.

Over the past many days doctors and health workers pleading for testing kits and protective measures have gone viral on social media.

Sai Badar, head of a hospital in Ayeyawaddy region said medial workers are facing a shortage of masks and other protective equipment.

“We do not have any PPE provided by the government, although region hosts thousands of people returned from Thailand over the past few days,” he told Anadolu Agency on phone.

Dozens of returnees have been admitted to the hospital after they showed coronavirus symptoms. But he said that no one has yet tested positive.

“Authorities are not well prepared to deal with the situation, and it puts us into a risky and dangerous position,” he said.

However, the the hospital has recently received 10 PPE donated by a local businessperson.

Myanmar government has been facing public criticism for its slow response to the global virus outbreak.

A professor at the University of Medicine (2) in Yangon said the government has failed to contain the virus through early detection and isolation of infected people.

“Ministry said no confirmed case until Monday, but it tested only about 200 suspected patients. It is not enough,” said the professor who pleaded anonymity, as he was not authorized to talk to media.

"This is probably because the country has only one laboratory for testing of coronavirus. But the point is the government has failed to provide or upgrade it with equipment and resources ahead of cases started being reported,” he said.

According to locally-published Frontier Myanmar, a news and business magazine, the National Health laboratory in Yangon has only seven microbiologists and four testing machines. “Myanmar has failed to undergo the aggressive test-and-quarantine program,” he said.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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