Suu Kyi Says No Discrimination Based on Faith, Ethnicity in Fight Against COVID-19 in Myanmar

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 25 August 2020

YANGON—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pledged there would be no discrimination on the basis of faith or ethnicity in the government’s fight against COVID-19, as the nationwide tally of cases surged to 474 as of Monday night, of which more than 80 were local transmissions reported in Rakhine State in a period of just eight days.

A total of 82 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 were reported in Rakhine State from Aug. 16 until Monday. The spike in cases—the most serious since the virus was first detected in the country in March—followed a one-month period in which no local transmissions were reported in the entire country. The outbreak in Rakhine has raised public concerns that the country is entering a second wave of the disease, as has been seen in many other countries.

The recent spate of Rakhine cases included a female INGO (international nongovernmental organization) employee based in Sittwe who had a history of traveling to Rohingya IDP camps in Rakhine State, though she had no history of overseas travel and no recorded contacts with any known COVID-19 patients.

Regarding the coronavirus outbreak in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the government would ensure that immediate treatment is provided to anyone who tests positive.

“No one will be left out. We will give everyone equal treatment. So, don’t worry too much. The important thing for us is to work together,” she said during a televised address on Monday night in which she updated the public about the COVID-19 situation in Rakhine.

During her speech, she downplayed the concerns over a possible second wave of COVID-19 and vowed that Rakhine as well as all other parts of the country would be protected through public cooperation.

“We will protect Rakhine. The same goes for other parts of the country. In doing so, there will be discrimination against neither religion nor ethnicity. We will help equally anyone living in the country. To make it happen, your cooperation is the key,” she said.

Rakhine Sate is religiously and ethnically diverse. The majority of residents are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, and there is also a large population of Rohingya Muslims. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 to escape security clearance operations by the military in response to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on security posts. The operations prompted an international outcry and accusations of crimes against humanity, which the Myanmar government and military deny.

The State Counselor said those differences in faith and ethnicity led to acts of violence that destabilized the region and embarrassed the country before the world.

She urged her fellow citizens not to respond to the COVID-19 situation in Sittwe with fear, but with determination to conquer it.

“Please take it as a chance to repair our international image. We need [an attitude of] strong determination, like ‘We can make it.’”

To curb the spread of COVID-19 in Rakhine, the state government has imposed partial lockdowns, including “stay at home” orders, in some areas where cases have been found.

The Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports has assigned a group of 24 medical volunteers, including several medical experts and nurses, to assist staff at the 500-bed Sittwe General Hospital, where most of Rakhine State’s COVID-19 patients are being treated.

In her speech, the State Counselor urged her fellow citizens to consider the coronavirus spike in Sittwe a challenge.

“But a challenge is not something to fear—it’s something to overcome. I believe it can be done if the whole nation tackles it together,” she said.

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