Myanmar leaders claim no COVID-19 in the country; govt. defies reality says HRW

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As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, Myanmar government still claims there are no cases of COVID-19 in the country.

To the country’s west, coronavirus cases have been confirmed in India and in Bangladesh, while its southern neighbour Thailand, has reported more than a hundred cases of infection.

However, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, the country has not yet seen a single confirmed case. “Until now, no one in our country is infected with Covid-19,” she said, while calling for citizens to financially support a government fund being set up to fight the disease, in a televised address on Monday.

Attempting to explain the anomaly, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s government has claimed that people’s “lifestyle and diet” protected them from the disease – stoking concerns the country is downplaying the impact of the respiratory illness.

Zaw Htay, also said Myanmar citizens’ use of cash for purchases instead of credit cards, helped curb the spread of the illness.

There is no evidence to show that diet or banknotes can stop the spread of coronavirus.

Aung San Suu Kyi, reiterated in a nationwide speech on March 16 that no cases have been found, while calling for citizens to financially support a government fund being set up to fight the disease.

Neither she nor Zaw Htay pointed out the obvious – that the virus is now in at least 155 countries worldwide and respects no borders. Myanmar is vulnerable because it shares a 2,227-kilometer porous border with China where workers and migrants cross daily. And it borders Bangladesh, India, and Thailand, all of which have reported COVID-19 cases.

Pressed by reporters during a media conference, Zaw Htay acknowledged there could be doubts about the lack of COVID-19 cases, yet he warned that the government would tackle “fake news” about the virus circulating online.

The government’s public lack of concern has sparked rumours and speculation about the government’s response, leaving many distrustful and unable to make informed decisions for their families. As seen in Wuhan, China, early government restrictions on reporting COVID-19 by medical workers and journalists led to a delayed response that fueled a subsequent explosive growth in cases.

The biggest step taken by the President’s Office was on March 13 when it cancelled Myanmar New Year celebrations (known as Thingyan) amid news of three suspicious deaths. The government also prohibited large-scale public gatherings until the end of April, recognizing that action is needed but still without providing accurate public information.

In a blog post, Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch said that Myanmar’s “irresponsible statements clash with everything known about the coronavirus outbreak, defy reality, and only serve to give a false sense of security to the country’s people about the disease and their risks of infection.” (Source: HRW)

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