Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar to Introduce Tougher Law to Control Communicable Diseases

By San Yamin Aung 18 May 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s Union minister of health and sports submitted a draft of the new Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law to the Lower House of Parliament on Monday. The law is aimed at improving the government’s effectiveness in preventing and controlling outbreaks of infectious disease.

The bill was written to replace the country’s outdated law on communicable diseases enacted in 1995. The existing law was amended once in 2011 to make a few changes including raising the fines imposed on violators.

Union Minister Dr. Myint Htwe told lawmakers the new law will allow the government to conduct investigations and efficient surveillance, and ensure effective responses and quick containment when there is an outbreak of a communicable disease.

He said the bill was drafted in line with the World Health Organization (WHO)’s international health regulations

“In addition, as there will be more effective cooperation with international organizations and respective departments in the event of global health emergencies, the status of public health will be improved and the occurrence of communicable diseases will be reduced,” the minister said.

The bill enhances the existing law by creating of a central committee to respond to and control outbreaks and epidemics of communicable diseases, and imposes prison terms on those found guilty of intentionally spreading infectious diseases.

Those who intentionally spread diseases will face one to three years in prison and fines of 500,000 to 1.5 million kyats (US$360-$1,070).

The existing law carries a maximum punishment of six months’ imprisonment and fines of up to 50,000 kyats for breaching the government’s directives and orders during outbreaks.

The new law carries harsher fines for those who breach the law. The fines are 10,000 to 3 million kyats for ordinary citizens, 50,000 to 500,000 kyats for health personnel and 100,000 to 30 million kyats for those engaged in business or the transport and logistics sectors.

Under the new law, imprisonment will only apply to repeat offenders, except for those who intentionally infect other people.

The draft legislation would also give authority to the ministry and its authorized officials or organizations to prohibit any reporting that would create public panic during outbreaks.

Myanmar is no stranger to infectious diseases, having experienced plague, cholera, tuberculosis, smallpox and influenza in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Most recently, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit Myanmar starting on March 23, posing challenges to the country as it has limited capacity, human resources and infrastructure for testing, control and treatment of the disease. To date, the country has reported 187 cases with six deaths and 97 recoveries.

The parliamentary Speaker on Monday called on lawmakers to register their names to debate the new law.

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