Authorities in the Yangon region, Myanmar’s main population and commercial center, imposed expanded stay-at-home orders Monday to combat a spike of coronavirus cases in the nation of 54 million.
As of Monday, Myanmar registered 6,151 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 610 new cases from the previous day, 98 total deaths, and 1,445 recoveries, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.
About 60 percent of the total confirmed cases are in Yangon region, home to 7.4 million people and the country’s capital until 2005, where the tightened stay-at-home orders took effect on Monday in all townships except remote Kokokyun, a small group of islands in the northeastern Bay of Bengal.
The government earlier imposed partial lockdowns in most areas of Yangon region when the number of cases began to surge after mid-August.
Workers at private companies and organizations in Yangon have been instructed to work from home, while garment factories have been ordered closed for two weeks starting Thursday.
Businesses that perform essential work, such as gas stations, medical producers and distributors, drinking water providers, factories that produce daily essentials, and banks, are allowed to operate as usual.
But the tougher restrictions pose an obstacle for ordinary people, especially day laborers like taxi trishaw drivers.
Zaw Oo, an elderly taxi driver, is one of the many residents of the commercial hub who must go out for work to make a living despite the stay-at-home order because he needs an income.
“These days, we cannot even borrow money, so I am not violating the order,” he said. “If the authorities interrogate me, I will give them an explanation.”
Zaw Oo said he used to drive a rented taxi from dawn to dusk, but now, he barely makes enough to cover his living expenses.
“So, I try to make whatever I can on top of the money I have to pay to the owner of the taxi,” he said.
Hmone Gyi, a trishaw driver in San Chaung, said people like him do not have any choice but to defy the stay-at-home order.
“Who would give us money if I didn’t work, because this is the only livelihood I’ve ever had?” he asked. “Nobody would support us. We are on our own to try to make enough for two meals a day.”
An indifferent attitude
Many markets remained open in the commercial hub, with vendors selling their goods as usual to shoppers wearing protective face masks, themselves indifferent to the stay-at-home order.
Though the government said that those who violated the order would face consequences, commuters and vehicles were out and about on Monday on the streets of Pabedan township in the center of downtown Yangon.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing hospitals and quarantine centers to accommodate new patients as the rate of confirmed respiratory infections keeps climbing.
On Monday afternoon, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi briefed the public via video about the latest COVID-19 developments, saying that health care workers, volunteers, and medical supplies were being mobilized.
The government has spent more than 1 trillion kyats (U.S. $747.5 million) transferred from a contingency budget for disaster relief to fight the spread of the highly contagious virus, she said.
In Yangon region, where the number of infected patients is the highest and there is a dearth of hospital beds, the government is transforming gymnasiums, schools, and stadiums into quarantine units.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.