Myanmar's Nurses, Doctors Face Eviction as Landlords Panic Over COVID-19

By Zarni Mann 26 March 2020

MANDALAY—With three confirmed COVID-19 cases in Myanmar, dozens of nurses, doctors and health workers in Mandalay staying at private hostels are being evicted as their landlords are afraid that the tenants could transmit the virus.

In Myanmar, most junior doctors, nurses and lab technicians who work in areas far from their homes have to stay at private hostels, as the Health Ministry is unable to provide them with accommodation.

Following the news of the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, local residents’ fears about infection have begun directly affecting the health care workers.

A nurse from Shan State posted at Mandalay General Hospital told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that her hostel owner told her and a friend that they have to leave the hostel tomorrow, as the hostel will close.

“Actually, she only told this to me and my friend, not to the others. Later I found out that the owner is worried about coronavirus infection, because we are nurses working at Mandalay General Hospital,” said the nurse, who preferred not to be named.

The Irrawaddy has learned that over a dozen nurses and doctors who are staying at different private hostels in Mandalay Region are being kicked out of their homes.

In Mandalay, there are 38 patients under investigation for possible infection with the coronavirus at Mandalay’s Kandawnadi Hospital, Mandalay General Hospital and Mandalay Children’s Hospital, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Sports on Wednesday.

One person who flew on the same flight as a confirmed coronavirus patient from Yangon to Kale is now under surveillance at the Nadi Myanmar Hotel in Mandalay, where the government has set up a makeshift temporary hospital to house and treat suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases.

Another nurse working at the Children’s Hospital in Mandalay said her hostel owner told her to move out as soon as possible because the landlord is concerned about the possible cases of COVID-19 at the hospital.

“They said they don’t want to take risk,” the nurse said.

An assistant doctor at Mandalay General Hospital recalled a similar experience.

“When I got back from the hospital in the evening, the hostel owner told me to find another place because she doesn’t want to keep doctors, and she is afraid the coronavirus will spread from me,” he said, adding that some lab assistants and technicians are also facing eviction.

The doctor said he explained to the hostel owner about the protective measures that all doctors, nurses and health workers have to follow at hospitals so that they won’t be a threat to people nearby. He said, however, that his effort was in vain.

“The owner just said she is afraid and I decided to move out. I heard many other junior doctors and nurses facing the same dilemma,” he said.

When The Irrawaddy called the three hostels in Maha Aung Myay Township where the nurses and doctor stayed, the landlords refused to give comments or hung up as soon as they learned they were talking to a reporter.

However, there may be a silver lining to the situation the health professionals faced.

As soon as news began to spread of the doctors and nurses being kicked out, a hotel, a couple of hostels and monasteries began to open their doors to accept them.

Oway Hotel, located in the heart of the city and close to Mandalay General Hospital, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that it will accept doctors and nurses at the hotel and charge them the minimum rate they would pay at local hostels.

“We are now preparing two floors of our hotel to accept the doctors and nurses who are being kicked out from their hostels. We will accommodate about 40 people,” said Daw Tin Tin Zaw, the owner of Owey Hotel in Mandalay.

She said that the hotel rooms will be ready on Friday and will available for up to three months. Another property owned by Daw Tin Tin Zaw, Oway Hostel, will also be accepting doctors and nurses, and over a dozen nurses are already accommodated.

“Starting from this morning, nurses have flooded into my hostel,” she added. “We understand the fear of the hostel owners. However, we would like to ask them not to treat the health care workers like this. They are our heroes, who will have to combat the coronavirus for us on the front line.”

A couple of Buddhist monasteries are also opening up for the doctors and nurses, free of charge.

Sayadaw U Arlawka of Warso Monastery located in Maha Aung Myay Township said he will provide doctors and nurses not only accommodations but also cooking materials.

Some in the public have voiced criticisms that the health care workers are facing these difficulties because the government failed to provide them with proper housing.

But Sayadaw U Arlawka said it doesn’t make sense to criticize the government for not providing accommodations for doctors and nurses.

“This is the time to help and cooperate. We already know that the Ministry of Health does not have enough budget for this,” he said. “Refusing to give rooms to the health workers, who are working for our safety, and treating them like dirty monsters is inhumane.”

A number of doctors and nurses in Yangon staying at private hostels are also facing challenges with their landlords.

“Some of our junior doctors and nurses said that their hostel owners are also displeased and they might have to leave the hostels soon,” said a senior consultant at North Okkalapa General Hospital. “Our hospital administration is planning accommodation for them, especially during this time of struggle.”

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