Work? Not work? New rules pile up confusion as outbreak explodes in Yangon

Health Ministry officials meet remotely on Friday. Photo: Ministry of Health and Sports
Health Ministry officials meet remotely on Friday. Photo: Ministry of Health and Sports

Work in sales or auto parts? Stay home. Work at a bank or chicken storage facility? Go to work, unless it’s a government job — and then check the calendar.

Stay-at-home orders are in effect for all except a confusing patchwork of industries as the coronavirus outbreak burns across Yangon, and as of Monday, local officials ordered that only one person leave home for shopping – two may seek medical attention – in every township except for the Coco islands.

Ensuring maximum confusing, Union Prime Minister Myint Htwe ordered that all garment factories close two weeks starting Thursday, and all government staff to work on split schedules alternating every two weeks. Then there’s the air travel freeze and midnight-to-4am citywide curfew imposed by the central COVID-19 committee.

The piling on of orders in a bid to stem the exponential spread of COVID-19, which in the past week doubled again to 6,471 cases as of today, has created anxiety and bewilderment.

“I don’t understand this at all,” Facebooker Nan Htike said of Sunday night’s stay-home order. “Does it mean we cannot trespass one ward from another?”

As deaths attributed to the virus tripled in the past week from 32 to 100 as of this morning, Facebooker Thet Thet Htike questioned why government workers were exempt from staying home.

“Do those who work at government offices have an extra life or can they buy one [free of charge]?” Thet Thet Htike wrote. “Please tell him next time that I’ll help write it, since it’s too complicated and evasive.”

Government workers were exempted along with those working in banking and finance; petroleum and fuel stations; food and beverages; meat and poultry storage and processing; pharmaceutics and medical manufacturing, drinking water distribution; and factories producing essentials goods.

Meanwhile the public as stepped up to ease the strain.

After last week saw hospitals pushed to their limits by the influx of patients, a 400-bed facility was paid for by famous Ayeyarwady Foundation magnate Zaw Zaw and built outside his football stadium within seven days. As of yesterday, it’s now filled with patients and healthcare volunteers in collaboration with the Health Ministry. Additionally, more facility tents are installed outside of Yangon’s hospitals that treat COVID-19.

On the other hand, Myanmar’s military has estimated that more than 16,000 people including 240 of its personnel will become infected by the end of the month if the outbreak is not brought under control. The Tatmadaw, as the military is called, said it has counted 46 infections so far.

Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told reporters that the military has 16 sites nationwide that can isolate more than 9,000 patients, mostly in Naypyitaw, Yangon, Shwenyaung, Mawlamyine and Myeik.

Since its first case was detected in late March, well after it had gripped other nations, COVID-19 is now hitting Myanmar hard, with the death toll doubling in just four days – faster than anywhere in the world at present.

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