Yangon’s regional government is under fire today after a top official and the chairman of its pandemic response team attended a Sunday religious festival in apparent defiance of their own rules.
At least two men have said that they have filed police complaints after Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, attended the Botataung Pagoda event.
Myanmar has banned all festivals and social gatherings through the end of May to fight the pandemic.
At the pagoda, the men joined an early morning ritual sending Shin Upagutta, a saint believed to protect against floods and storms, floating down the Yangon River, according to a post by Phyo Min Thein.
Thar Htet Aung wrote online this morning that he was waiting at the police station to make a complaint against Phyo Min Thein for breaking the law. His letter included screenshots taken of the chief minister’s Facebook page as evidence.
Several members of Parliament have criticized the chief minister.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” said U Kyaw Zaya, an MP from Dagon Township, to characterize the actions of the regional government.
“It looks like they don’t have to obey orders coming from themselves,” said May Soe, an MP for Botataung Township.
Phyo Min Thein today denied breaching the social distancing order, saying in a recording posted online that it was legal to conduct construction and renovation activities and describing his ceremonial appearance as part of renovation of the pagoda.
“The accusation that the regional government was holding a ceremony is totally wrong. We have no plan to hold any ceremonies,” he said.
Photos showed the two men and others praying before altars. None showed them engaged in renovation work.
Myanmar has applied selective punishment in its response to the ongoing pandemic, which it was late in detecting and claims has only infected 203 people to date.
At least three Christian preachers who defied social distancing orders were charged and face sentences of up to three years in prison. A dozen Muslims have been give three-month prison sentences for gathering to pray.
According to reports, Buddhists who broke the law were only fined small amounts.