The Ministry of Health and Sports has announced that it will grant approval to certain factories to resume operations provided they meet strict safety standards. Garment factories and the workshops of small and medium enterprises will be eligible for a permit from the Central Committee for Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19, the announcement said. A spokesperson for the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone Management Committee told the Myanmar Times that at least 100 factories within its purview will open in the coming days.
The measure will likely be well received by members of the manufacturing sector, which has been battered by the recent wave of infections, especially in Yangon. Thus, work has been uncertain for many of the regions poorest residents since the beginning of the pandemic. The EU created a COVID-19 relief fund specifically to protect out-of-work factory workers, especially women. The latest lockdown measures have once again left tens of thousands households without pay.
Yet the government is gambling that the economic benefit will outweigh the risk of prolonging the pandemic. As the country passes 30,000 confirmed cases, the threat of a surge in Yangon’s industrial zones, both on the factory floors and in the cramped worker housing units, looms larger than ever. The Ministry of Health and Sports has promised harsh penalties for factories with unsafe working conditions. Yet factory owners and managers have historically flouted government regulations at the expense of the health and safety of their workers, at least, so claim leaders of frequent strikes and demonstrations that have plagued the garment sector.