Myanmar & COVID-19

Myanmar’s Shan State Launches Campaign to Promote Use of Face Masks

By Zue Zue 7 May 2020

YANGON—The Shan State government on Thursday launched a campaign to educate people on the need to wear face masks whenever they go outdoors in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The campaign covers 21 townships in the south of the state, including the capital Taunggyi.

The awareness campaign, which will be conducted one day a week for one month, was initiated after State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged people to make cloth masks and wear them whenever going out. She made one herself last month and also initiated a cloth mask-making contest on Thursday.

U Soe Nyunt Lwin, the Shan State minister of finance and planning, and a spokesman for the state government, said the public health campaign is designed “to be able to control the spread of any disease from one person to another. Also [we plan] to encourage people to get familiar with wearing masks [while traveling], not only in this coronavirus situation, but also beyond the COVID-19 period.”

As of Thursday, Myanmar has 162 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with six fatalities and 50 recoveries, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports. Five of the confirmed cases are in Shan State, where 44 people are under observation and 40 others have been quarantined in hospitals.

The mask campaign will focus on crowded cities and towns such as Taunggyi, Lashio, Muse and Tachileik and will involve the distribution of masks and hand gels, as well as leaflets with information on public health awareness and social distancing.

The state minister said, “People have to go out to work for a living. They will do so, and soon, when there are no new cases, large crowds will develop. Our government must raise awareness on this. It is a long-term issue; we cannot do it for only a day. The government’s patience as well as public cooperation is needed.”

He added that the campaign would later distribute sanitized, reusable cloth masks.

The minister said distributing masks is a good way to raise awareness, but he acknowledged that doing so can attract crowds. Even as large numbers of people came out to receive free masks on Thursday morning, he said it was important to follow social distancing measures.

Ko Myo, who works for the community-based group Social Volunteers Without Borders in Hsipaw Township, said that while the mask campaign was a good start, a one-time giveaway of surgical masks would not solve the problem. The cost of a mask is 500 kyats (36 US cents), he said, making it too expensive for a family of five to replace their masks regularly.

“If the government can distribute a larger number of cheaper masks to people, it would be more effective. If people can buy masks at the lowest prices, they can also be protected from the disease,” he said.

He said the public seemed to be growing less concerned about the risk of COVID-19, which meant that efficient public health awareness campaigns and effective law enforcement were still needed, as the country has not yet contained the coronavirus.

Translated and rewritten in English by Nyein Nyein

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