Compared to many countries, the virus has been slow to gain a proper foothold in Myanmar. As of mid-May 2020, the Ministry of Health and Sport website reported 181 cases of COVID-19 and 6 deaths nationwide. Although Myanmar has not officially detected a high number of active cases, the virus has already wreaked havoc on the economy and society as a whole. International financial institutions expect a slight decline in the GDP growth rate, but this can change dramatically if COVID-19 becomes widespread, causing severe disruptions and panic reactions. Should policy makers anticipate the worst-case scenario and prepare timely responses? Are the current responses hitting the mark?
Myanmar does have a step-by-step guideline under the National Plan of Action on Health Security, which was updated in 2018. The country also has experience recovering from severe shocks such as Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and floods and landslides in 2015. Perhaps no other Asian country has the same vulnerabilities to COVID-19 as pronounced as in Myanmar, which continues to grapple with political, economic, and conflict-related transitions that fundamentally shaped its pandemic response. Capacity constraints in key state institutions and the healthcare system, coupled with a population that is highly vulnerable to a sharp economic downturn, required a pragmatic response that excluded many of the aggressive measures taken by regional neighbors. The implementation of policy was often improvised and left to lower level officials, leading to considerable variation across the country. The challenge of containing the pandemic threat was compounded by ongoing conflict in the country’s periphery, as well as the presence of several high-risk groups including returning migrant workers and internally displaced persons. This talk is hosted by the Knowledge for Democracy – Myanmar (K4DM) Initiative, in partnership with U of Victoria’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) as part of their “Covid-19 in Asia: Law and Policy Contexts” project.
Ngu Wah Win, Senior Policy Advisor, Centre for Economic and Social Development
Aung Hein, Researcher, International Growth Centre