Myanmar’s true pandemic has begun

This week, the new wave of coronavirus infections raged on with no signs of slowing. At the time of writing, authorities have confirmed more than 1800 cases and 12 deaths. The new wave apparently originated from an outbreak in mid August in Rakhine State, which has since reported more than 700 cases. The outbreak, however, is now burning in Yangon, which has reported more than 500 new cases since August 16th. The government has imposed new lockdown measures in response. Twenty eight townships in Yangon are currently under stay-at-home orders. Several taxi drivers have been among the infected, and more than 80 cases have been linked to a KTV studio in Thingangyun, reported the Myanmar Times.

Meanwhile, the government is continuing and extending the measures of its COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan. It recently extended the quarterly income tax deadline for SMEs and businesses in the garment and tourism sectors, and it continues to grant soft loans. But the new wave of infections is disappointing for those who expected a swift economic recovery. Most international flights will likely stay grounded. Furthermore, the new infections will likely scuttle plans to restart limited international tourism and labor exchange programs with countries such as South Korea and Japan. In the exports sector, flagging demand from Europe has hurt the garment industry, and this week the Myanmar Times reported that jade—one of Myanmar’s chief exports, especially to China—is also suffering.

In some ways, the new cases are not a second wave, but a true first wave. As its neighbors reported thousands of confirmed cases (Thailand’s case count stands at nearly 3500, and Bangladesh has reported more than 300,000) Myanmar had managed to keep its cases to below 400. Yet with scores of new infections reported every day, it seems the pandemic has truly erupted within Myanmar’s borders.

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