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Worrying trends: Myanmar's Rakhine State sees coronavirus cases surge

Published on 17 September 2020

Like many countries across the world, Myanmar first felt the economic brunt of the coronavirus crisis. Restrictions on movement introduced to prevent the spread of the virus back in March meant joblessness for returning migrant workers and left those relying on daily waged work, without an income to support their families.

According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, 110,000 workers returned home between March and June having lost jobs overseas due to the pandemic. Another 140,000 workers in the country lost jobs following the closure of thousands of businesses, including hundreds of factories, shops and restaurants.

While Myanmar seemed to initially escape the worse of the pandemic, a recent surge in cases would suggest that this sadly seems likely to change. 

Close to 100 cases a day have been recorded in Myanmar since August 16th, with the largest number of these arising in Rakhine State in the west of the country. Nearly all of Rakhine’s 400 confirmed cases were reported during the last two weeks of August.

Rakhine also has a number of other challenges to contend with. In early July, nearly 74,000 people fled their homes following fighting across the state.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Christian Aid and local partners have been working hard to support vulnerable communities including those displaced by violence and those hosting them in Rakhine State to help them cope. However, the current ‘stay at home’ order now in place to try to prevent the spread of the virus is limiting aid efforts.

Despite these challenges, with funding from Irish Aid, Christian Aid’s local partners have distributed soap to over 23,000 people living in villages and displacement camps across Rakhine State. We have also raised awareness of the importance of regular handwashing and ‘considerate coughing’ to help prevent the spread of the virus, as well as emphasise the need for people to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from abroad.

Christian Aid have also supported our local partner HLDO to train community groups to produce masks and sanitizers to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

A woman receiving food at an Irish Aid funded distribution held by Christian Aid’s local partner Rakhine Women’s Network (RWN) in Thea Chaung Village in Sittwe, Rakhine State. Photo Credit: Christian Aid/RWN

With Irish Aid support, Christian Aid has also provided food including rice, pulses, oil and salt to over 1,000 families living in four villages for displaced people in Rakhine State to help ensure they have enough food to eat.

In Mrauk U and Buthidaung, Christian Aid and local partner TCDI are also working in three of the biggest camps for displaced people to install water pipes, distribute water containers and share information on coronavirus with more than 9,000 people helping to ensure they can wash their hands and have the knowledge they need to help protect themselves from catching the virus.

With funding from ECHO, Christian Aid’s local partner PSSAG provided 225 families who were displaced by violence during the pandemic and are now living in Mya Taung Monastery IDP camp in Buthidaung with food including rice, beans, oil, onions and garlic. In the coming weeks, Christian Aid will also support the partner to provide food to 400 Rohingya families living in the town who also do not have enough food to eat having lost their livelihoods due to fighting as well as because of restrictions on movement introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus, to help them cope.

Christian Aid’s partner TCDI installing a water pipe in a displacement site in Mrauk U Township to help ensure those living there have access to clean water & can wash their hands to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo Credit: Christian Aid/TCDI

Helping returning workers

A member of staff from Christian Aid's local partner KBC providing cash to a family in Khowe Kwar Village in Kayin State who have a family member living with a disability. Photo Credit: Christian Aid/KBC

Elsewhere in Myanmar, Christian Aid has been supporting returning migrant workers, many who have been left without jobs as a result of the pandemic. In Kayin State, and with funding from the Start Network, Christian Aid’s local partners have reached over 6,000 people, mostly migrant workers returning from China and Thailand after losing their jobs due to lockdown as well as vulnerable families and people with disabilities with the equivalent of around €30 each to help them pay for food, rent and transport costs.

In Chin State, which neighbours Rakhine, Christian Aid’s local partner HLDO is providing healthcare workers and volunteers caring for returning migrants who are staying in quarantine centres or receiving treatment in healthcare facilities by handing out masks and gloves, as well as ensuring that those visiting the centres are provided with masks, soap and handwashing facilities upon arrival.

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