Myanmar Forms Civil-Military Emergency Task Force to Boost COVID-19 Response

By Nan Lwin 31 March 2020

YANGON—Amid climbing number of COVID-19 infections, Myanmar has formed an emergency task force with military and civilian ministries to support measures around law enforcement and stability and to step up government efforts to respond to the pandemic in the country.

As of Tuesday, the country has confirmed a total of 14 COVID-19 cases including 1 death.

The COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee is led by military-appointed First Vice President U Myint Swe and comprised of the Union ministers of the military-controlled defense, border affairs and home affairs ministries as well as civilian ministries like labor, immigration and population, religious affairs and culture, transport and communications, and social welfare, relief and resettlement as well as the minister of the Office of the Union Government.

The committee is the first instance of cooperation between the military and civilian government since the government formed a national-level central committee on prevention, control and treatment for the coronavirus disease on March 13. The committee is led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Before joining the new taskforce, the military had launched preventive measures, including sanitizing religious sites and other forms of prevention across the country.

The newly-formed emergency task force will investigate COVID-19 patients, including anyone who has returned from Thailand and tests positive for the disease, to trace their close contacts in the country and place them in quarantine centers, according to the President Office.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) warned on Sunday that the country is at very high risk of a “major outbreak” of COVID-19 as large numbers of migrant workers return from Thailand. Late on Sunday, Myanmar confirmed two more cases of COVID-19 in Yangon, including one who recently returned from Thailand via Myawaddy, a border town in Karen State.

According to MOHS data, more than 23,000 people returned to Myanmar from Thailand via Myawaddy between March 19 and 28.

The President Office said that if there is a coronavirus outbreak in the country, with infection spreading from one or multiple regions, the committee will take instructions from the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led committee, which includes MOHS.

In the case of an outbreak, the military and civilian response committee will support community quarantine procedures in collaboration with relevant government departments and NGOs and also help to provide food, health treatment and mental health support.

The committee will have to ensure citizens follow the rule of law in areas where there is a high incidence of infections, areas with a high potential for infection and also any areas with instability related to infectious diseases, the President Office said.

The committee will also have to ensure the safety of medical facilities, pharmacies and factories as they will need to continue operating even during a community quarantine period.

The committee will prepare food supplies, medicines, medical facilities, test kits, personal protective equipment [PPE], transportation vehicles and community-based quarantine facilities and volunteers.

The committee will have also use existing laws to promptly order the arrest of anyone who spreads fake news, misinformation or information that aims to cause serious panic among the people. The committee will also promptly order the arrest of anyone who inflates the prices of medicines, food or consumer goods.

The committee will aim to implement public awareness campaigns, disinfect public places, and share instructions relating to COVDI-19 and rules for social distancing.

The committee will also open a new department to report any illegal entries or exits at border crossings as well as corruption cases.

“The committee will be more focused on stability, security and law enforcement. This is the reason the military and its appointed officials have to play a major role in the committee,” political analyst U Maung Maung Soe told The Irrawaddy.

“The national committee will make the policy and the emergency committee will have to apply it on the ground. They will handle people who break the rules and regulations strictly during an outbreak,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

Meanwhile, local governments have imposed a regional administrative order across the country, urging people to follow the instructions, directives and rules released by relevant ministries during the coronavirus crisis.

The order dictates that anyone who fails to follow instructions from authorities, including health officials, could face jail time and fines under the Communicable Diseases Law and the National Disaster Management Law. Anyone who intentionally spreads fake news to cause panic can also face up to one year in prison and a fine.

Since mid-March, the government has been preparing hospitals, stadiums, apartments, schools, community centers and mediation centers across Myanmar to serve as quarantine centers for people who are arriving on flights from foreign countries. As of Sunday, Myanmar has now banned all international commercial passenger flights from arriving in the country until April 13.

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