Covid-19 and Myanmar

No mask, no ride rule implemented for Yangon buses

Yangon commuters who do not wear face masks when they go outside will not be allowed to get on public buses. They will also be charged starting May 13, according to the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA)

The regional government has already announced that they will take action against those who break the law under the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law starting May 13”, said YRTA secretary U Maung Aung.

Action will be taken against citizens who do not wear face masks when they go out and buses under Yangon Bus Service (YBS) will only allow passengers who wear face masks to board, according to YRTA’s announcement. Those who fail to follow the measures will face charges under No 1/2020, Section 3(a) of the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law.

“Yangon residents must wear their face mask. We’re not only talking about wearing masks on the YBS buses but whenever they are outside. They had been urged to wear it before. Now that the official law has been issued, they will no longer be allowed to get on the buses if they do not wear a proper face mask,’ said U Maung AAs of May 12, there were a total of 102 YBS lines operating 2,543 buses, carrying a total of 373,717 passengers.

Two days earlier, the government announced that people leaving their homes without wearing a face mask will be charged under the law and fined K5000.

People from 44 townships of Yangon must wear masks when they go outside of their houses. Gathering in groups of more than 5 people is also prohibited without the prior consent of the respective ward administration. These restrictions will become effective from May 13 onwards, until the government releases a new order. 

Children, parents and teachers walk to BEHS (3) Tarmwe, Yangon. Photo: The Myanmar Times

Schools in Myanmar likely to reopen in June, with a slight delay

Myanmar’s basic education schools are likely to reopen in June but with a little delay, a senior official said.

U Ko Lay Win, the director general of the Department of Basic Education, said on May 10 he expects schools to reopen a few days later than June 1. 

Even if we could start our normal work now, it would be a little hard for us to finish it in two weeks, he said. The reopening of the schools might take place normally or later than the planned date.

But things will no longer be the same as before when schools reopen. Students would be required to wear face masks and must observe social distancing in compliance with Health Ministry guidelines.

Schools that do not have many students will be run as one-session schools, but those with many students will be run in two sessions to follow social distancing rules,” U Ko Lay Win said. We plan to order reusable face masks from businesses and deliver them to students before school reopens, he added. We will also arrange face masks for teachers. 

U Ko Lay Win said new guidelines from the Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19 will be released before May 15.

He said that if the current guidelines are extended which include movement restrictions it would be very difficult to reopen schools in June. 

Last year, over 9 million students attended the country’s basic education schools.

A man wearing a face mask seen sitting at Mahabandula Park, Yangon. Photo: Mar Naw/The Myanmar Times

Tourism operators expect recovery in two years at best

Myanmar’s tourism industry is expected to remain closed for the rest of the year due to COVID-19 restrictions, operators said.

The recovery of the sector depends on the country’s ability to control and contain the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, far fewer foreign tourists are expected over the next two years.

It may be possible for local people to start making trips in October if the pandemic is controlled but rather than in groups, most people will only travel with their families. It would be hard to restart both inbound and outbound tours,” said U Thet Lwin Toe, an industry insider based in Yangon.

Because of COVID-19, tour packages offered in the past will need to change and the industry will have to be more innovative with their services to generate revenue, he said.

Daw Aye Thida Moe, vice chair of the Myanmar Tourism Entrepreneurs Association, said: “It is impossible for Myanmar tourism to return to normal this year as there will be less foreign clients. Even if the tourism sector starts operating again after the COVID-10 crisis, only the people from neighbouring countries will come. We expect the situations to return to normal in two years at best and are cooperating with the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism for the recovery plans.”

Daw Hla Darli Khin of Toedi Tourism believes tourists from the region might return by the end of the year, but for operators of outbound tours, recovery can be expected by Thingyan next year.

“As all outbound tours have completely stopped due to travel restrictions around the world, we need to think of another business to offset the losses.  We expect to only be able to sell airplane tickets for business purposes during this time,” she said.

The tourism sector experienced a high level of outbound booking cancellations this Thingyan as airlines around the world were grounded and international tour operators called off their plans.

A man wearing a face mask seen walking in front of a street which is placed under semi-lockdown in Yangon. Photo: Mar Naw/The Myanmar Times

Myanmar economy unlikely to recover this year: MIFER

Despite a huge increase in approved foreign investments from US$1.9 billion to $3.3 billion during the period between October 2019 and March 2020, the actual inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) are lower.

At $500 million, the inflow of investment in the first quarter of the year fell short of last year’s $800 million, said U Aung Naing Oo, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER).

“My concern is that although more investment was approved, the actual inflow of FDI will be a challenge for us,” he said during an AustCham Myanmar webinar last Wednesday.

Almost all businesses in the country are suffering as a result of the coronavirus,” U Aung Naing Oo added. He is also a member of the Working Committee to address the possible impacts of COVID-19 on the country’s economy, chaired by the investment minister U Thaung Tun.

Based on the ministry’s observations and discussions with businesses, it is unlikely that the Myanmar economy will see a recovery by the end of the year, said U Aung Naing Oo.

“Currently, the impact has been more on garment businesses and the hotel and tourism sector, but this will be seen in other sectors in a few weeks to come,” he added.

Recognising the overall economic disruption on every sector of Myanmar’s economy, the government last week unveiled the COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP), comprising 72 actions under seven goals.

Under the CERP, the government provided for the expansion of a K100 billion ($72 million) fund to K200 billion – K500 billion before the end of the year. The Finance Ministry first announced the emergency fund in March to help garment and tourism businesses as well as SMEs at an interest rate of 1%. It was put together by reallocating up to 10% of the budgets from each ministry.

Out of approximately 3,800 applications for the fund, 200 for loans amounting to $10 billion have been approved, according to U Aung Naing Oo. Other significant measures in the CERP include waivers on Specific Goods Tax, customs duties and commercial taxes for critical medical supplies related to COVID-19 prevention. The plan includes deferrals of corporate income tax and commercial tax and waivers to withholding tax announced before.

For the vast number of factory workers who were laid off since the pandemic, the government will also provide support through the Social Security Board.

It is estimated as many as 50,000 factory workers have been furloughed or dismissed as a result of insufficient supplies and cancellations of orders for manufacturers in the country. The garment industry accounted for the majority of the factory closures.

The tourism industry has also struggled as a result of travel restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Prior to the CERP, which was released on April 27, the government had introduced relief measures incrementally. However, business executives and analysts had urged Nay Pyi Taw to scale up the economic bailout in view of the “unprecedented” challenges facing the country.

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