NGO Activities Restricted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Amid COVID-19 Spike

By Zarni Mann 24 August 2020

Mandalay – As COVID-19 cases in Rakhine State are increasing, the state government has restricted international organizations working with the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other non-governmental organizations from holding training sessions, meetings and educational programs.

The order on Friday was addressed to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ICRC and other NGOs said no events could be held, especially at camps for internally displaced people (IDP) and in COVID-19 hotspots, until coronavirus is controlled in the state.

The Rakhine minister for security and border affairs told The Irrawaddy the restrictions are to control mass gatherings to prevent the virus spreading.

“Important work, such as distributing food, medicine and protective equipment and urgent health care, are allowed. However, [NGOs] must follow the COVID-19 preventive measures set by the Ministry of Health and Sports,” said Colonel Min Than, the military-appointed state security and border affairs minister.

The order bans direct contact with IDP camp dwellers and the state’s residents if NGOs are distributing food and goods. Instead they should leave deliveries with the camp authorities and the municipal administration staff.

The order follows confirmed coronavirus cases reported by NGO staff in Rakhine State.

Relief International’s Myanmar office announced on Sunday that three of its staff from Mrauk-U tested positive in the last week, that its offices in the state were closed and all work suspended.

It is said it is working in the state to support residents and IDP camps. It said its infected staff traveled to camps in Mrauk-U two weeks ago and had not been abroad. They had visited Mrauk-U’s town center, IDP camps and the state capital, Sittwe. They are receiving treatment in Mrauk-U general hospital.

A staff member from an NGO in Sittwe is also tested positive on August 19 and is being treated at Sittwe’s hospital.

“The order is to reduce contact and avoid mass gatherings to prevent the virus spreading. We don’t know how long this will take because it depends on the COVID-19 situation,” Col. Min Than added.

Before the cases in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s last domestic transmission was a 24-year-old man in Kyauktaw Township in Rakhine State. He tested positive on July 16, despite having no travel history or reported contact with confirmed patients.

As of Monday, Myanmar had reported 463 confirmed COVID-19 cases with six deaths and 341 recoveries.

In Rakhine, 45 transmissions have been reported in a week.

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