All eyes in Myanmar have been on the country’s parliament since a debate on proposed constitutional amendments commenced last week.
However, a group of military-appointed lawmakers stole the limelight on Wednesday with a distinctive arrival at the Union Parliament in the political capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
It was not because they carried guns to parliament; rather, it was the fact that all 116 military lawmakers wore protective face masks.
A member of the ruling National League party said their most likely aim was to raise public awareness on the threat posed by the global coronavirus outbreak.
“People pay attention to the Hluttaw [Burmese term for parliament] these days. So, they might have thought the timing was right to send a message to the public about the coronavirus threat,” he told Anadolu Agency over the phone on Wednesday.
“In my opinion, it is a good idea. But I don’t know if it is just a stunt or a sincere show of concern,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity due to a fear of reprisal.
The move came after the military announced earlier this week that the outbreak may postpone the annual ceremony of Armed Forces Day on March 27.
Myanmar, which shares a long and porous border with neighboring China, is surprisingly not among the over 75 countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
However, the country’s health authorities have warned of a potential outbreak and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.
In its daily press release on Wednesday, the health ministry said there were no coronavirus cases in the country but said an outbreak was still possible.
Feeling the impact
While the South Asian nation’s population may still be safe from the COVID-19 epidemic, the development and industrial sectors of the country -- whose economy is largely dependent on China -- are feeling the impact of the global outbreak.
Its labor-intensive garment industry has been seriously affected by the supply chain disruptions in China, which was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak and remains the worst-hit country in the world.
The situation is at a point where, according to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, three factories suspended operations last week due to a shortage of raw materials.
Up to 90 percent of the cloth processed at Myanmar’s factories is supplied by China, with the rest imported from Indonesia, South Korea, and Vietnam.
Of these three, South Korea is the worst-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak and had over 5,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.
Aung Win, vice chairman of the association, said some garment factories had reduced working hours since the Chinese New Year holiday this January.
“Around 20 more factories are facing a similarly dire situation and have informed us they will be suspending operations in the coming weeks,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“Unfortunately, that means tens of thousands of workers are going to lose their jobs,” Win added.
Myanmar’s garments industry employs an estimated 500,000 people and is the country’s largest export earner, bringing in $4.6 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Troubles all over
Beijing’s decision to shut major border crossings with Myanmar in early February also sparked a sharp downturn in trade, with the agriculture sector the worst affected.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Myanmar usually made $10 million a day from border trade with China, but earnings have plummeted to $1 million since the crossings were closed.
Sai Myint Mo, who chairs the Myanmar Fruit Exporters Association based in the northern border town of Muse, said agricultural product exports to China have been stopped for weeks.
“This is happening for the very first time; we have never seen such a situation,” he told Anadolu Agency. “It has affected millions of farmers across the country.”
Tourism is another industry reeling from the effects of the border restrictions.
Myanmar has temporarily stopped its on-arrival visa facility for Chinese citizens, badly affecting tourist inflow from a country that accounts for 30% of all tourist arrivals.
The country’s power sector is also feeling the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government has been pushing private companies to complete five emergency projects to deliver an additional 1040 megawatts by the summer.
The rush is driven by the government’s desire to avert a power supply shortage this summer, as it seeks to woo voters ahead of the November 2020 general elections.
Two of the projects are in Yangon and are being executed by a consortium that includes the Honk Kong-listed VPower company.
However, with the outbreak causing delays in delivery of required equipment and materials from China, the two projects are unlikely to meet their April deadline.
“There are many factors limiting the implementation of these projects, so I believe the deadline will not be met,” said an official of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy.
“The government wants to avoid disappointing the voters in an election year,” he told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
“But no one should be blamed [for the delay]. This is a global crisis; it is affecting everyone," said the official.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.