Myanmar Lower House Passes Law Boosting Govt’s Powers to Fight Epidemics
By San Yamin Aung 29 May 2020
YANGON—Myanmar’s Lower House on Thursday approved a draft law that gives the Ministry of Health and Sports broader powers to prevent and control infectious diseases.
The Union minister of health and sports submitted the draft of the new Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law to Parliament on May 18. The bill replaces the country’s outdated existing law on communicable diseases, which was enacted in 1995.
The minister, Dr. Myint Htwe, told lawmakers on May 18 as he submitted the bill that it was written in line with the World Health Organization international health regulations.
He added that the new law will allow the government to conduct investigations and more efficient surveillance, and ensure quick containment when there is an outbreak of a communicable disease.
The new law also allows for more effective cooperation between the ministry’s respective departments and international organizations in the event of global health emergencies, and establishes a central committee to respond to outbreaks of communicable diseases.
Additionally, it carries harsher fines for those who breach the law. And in an unprecedented move, 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) under the new law.
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.
According to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 184 people were charged and punished under the existing Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law and the Natural Disaster Management Law for defying COVID-19 rules and restrictions in March and April.
Lower House lawmaker Dr. Than Aung Soe from Bago Region said he expects the new law will improve the Health Ministry’s effectiveness in responding to epidemics of communicable diseases like COVID-19.
The bill will now be forwarded to the Upper House, where it is expected to be passed into law, unless the chamber makes changes to it.
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