YANGON—As Myanmar businesses call for government support to deal with the impacts of coronavirus, Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that the government planned in advance to cushion the blow from negative repercussions of the outbreak. However, she did not say how the government will attempt to prevent an economic crisis.
“The sharp drop in border trade has impacted the conditions of our economy. We can’t escape this,” she said, speaking at a public meeting in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Region on Tuesday. “We have launched a plan to tackle not only health issues but also economic issues.”
The State Counselor said that the government formed a committee under the Ministry for International Cooperation when the coronavirus outbreak began.
“Every day we have been very vigilant about the ongoing situation—the challenges of health, as well as the economic and social challenges. We have kept ourselves alert 24 hours and plan to overcome the challenges with our expertise, with the abilities of our people,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. “There are efforts to secure better health and economic benefits for the people, as much as we can.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has already caused an overall slowdown in Myanmar’s economy and experts have warned that the effect of the coronavirus could lead to a full-blown economic crisis for the country.
Since late January, the outbreak has continued to hit Myanmar’s tourism, border trade and export sectors, causing massive losses for producers, exporters and workers. Myanmar has already lost several hundred million dollars as business slows in China, the country’s largest trading partner.
On Sunday, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) said that 16 factories have closed in Myanmar due to a lack of raw materials from China. Closures of garment factories have led to mass layoffs, affecting more than 7,000 workers, according to the CTUM.
In late February, the Union of Myanmar Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) called for assistance from the government to help deal with the impact of the layoffs.
Minister of Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe said at a meeting in Naypyitaw Tuesday that his ministry will collaborate with workers and factory owners to tackle the crisis. He said the ministry would ensure workers receive proper compensation and also investigate whether factories are actually closing down due to a lack of raw material from China or for other reasons.
The UMFCCI also said tourist arrivals by plane have declined 53 percent since late January. The Myanmar Tourism Federation also said that the outbreak is expected to cut tourism revenue by as much as 50 percent.
The kyat exchange rate has also become volatile. The kyat rose significantly against the US dollar last week but the exchange rate dropped again from 1,405 kyats per dollar on March 4 to 1329 kyats per dollar on Tuesday.
The Myanmar Central Bank purchased US$6 million on Tuesday in a move to ease the exchange rate volatility.
Myanmar health officials have tested 78 people for coronavirus since January but none have tested positive, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS). Seven suspected patients are still awaiting their test results.
In late February, the MOHS warned that Myanmar remains at risk for an outbreak of coronavirus and advised people to avoid mass gatherings.
COVID-19 has infected over 110,000 people around the world. In China, it has infected over 80,000 people and killed more than 3,000, according to Chinese health authorities. Italy had reported 10,149 confirmed cases as of Thursday with 631 deaths.
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