Myanmar govt should communicate COVID-19 containment strategy more clearly

In the past two weeks, the Yangon government’s social media channels have been inundated with queries about the latest COVID-19 restrictions, particularly on whether instructions for folks to stay at home will be tightened, Yangon Region Social Affairs Minister U Naing Ngan Lin said on December 5.

“Some believe COVID-19 can be controlled only by implementing a strict lockdown,” he said.

“However, we believe we can overcome COVID-19 if each individual follows the rules,” he added.

The latest instructions extending a ban on gatherings of more than 30 and a curfew from midnight to 4am until December 15 were issued by the National Level Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19 on November 28. Masks are compulsory and commercial flights, both domestic and international, are still suspended.

In Yangon, a total of 44 townships have also been placed under a stay-at-home programme, under which residents have been advised to remain in their homes with only a restricted number of people per household allowed to go out for essentials or to seek medical care.

While essential service providers and factories which have passed government inspections are allowed to operate, entertainment outlets are still under instructions to remain shut. Meanwhile, restaurants, tea shops and food stalls are to provide takeaway services only.

Yet, one does not have to look far in Yangon to see that these rules and instructions are being increasingly ignored. During the November 27-30 Tazaungmone Festival long weekend for example, large numbers of people were seen gathering with their families to light lanterns and fireworks. Meanwhile, some food and beverage outlets have already started receiving crowds of diners.

And perhaps one of the reasons for the public’s increasing disregard for the rules is the government’s decreasing enforcement of them, or at the very least, to be clear and firm in its communications with the public.

Last week in fact, the government said it is planning to relax stay-at-home programs in townships with high COVID-19 infection rates from township-level to ward to avoid restricting entire townships, according to Dr Tun Myint, deputy director general of the Public Health Department.

Meanwhile, some food shops and stalls will also be permitted to open under close supervision “to avoid further economic losses” even though there are no plans to allow restaurants to officially reopen for dine-in purposes, said U Naing Ngan Lin.

He also added that many food and beverage outlets have already reopened and these will have to be closely inspected.

It is this vague and sometimes contradicting communications that has many confused and frustrated over the uncertainty and inability to plan ahead. Yet, it is also a way to allow others to earn a living amid rising poverty levels.

U Naing Ngan Lin stressed that being overly strict with regulations such as enforcing a blanket lockdown will lead to other issues such as a hunger crisis in Yangon.

Unlike other regions and states, he said Yangon Region must carefully balance the need to enable the grassroots to keep food on the table and manage the spread of COVID-19.

He admitted though, that the number of COVID-19 cases will only continue to spread if the authorities are overly lenient with enforcing restrictions. He also added that existing restrictions cannot be fully eased until the situation is brought under control.

Last month, the Ministry of Health and Sports said that it is planning to adopt a community-based containment strategy based on a ‘Know early, report early, benefit early’ basis. No further details have been communicated since then.

Whatever the case, there does not appear to be a coherent strategy to manage the spread of COVID-19 in Yangon and the rest of the country, with the authorities so far only able to urge the public to cooperate by following the rules and regulations.

With the government’s hands currently tied, it would do well to communicate those restrictions to the public as clearly as possible.

Source : Myanmar Times