State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held a videoconference with officials who are working for contact tracing for COVID-19, and carrying out prevention and control measures of this disease. The discussion was taken part by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Major-General Soe Tint Naing, Head of General Administration Department in Yangon’s south district U Nay Win Aung and Assistant Director of Public Health Department in Yangon Region Dr Thet Su Mon. The State Counsellor, in her capacity as the Chairperson of National-Level Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19, discussed from the meeting hall of Presidential Palace in Nay Pyi Taw via videoconferencing.
Opening discussions of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
First of all, in making her introductory remarks the State Counsellor said that today she wanted to discuss about contact tracking of who are suspected of being infected with COVID; since there was a possibility of infection spread she wanted the public to realize how important this was; this was a matter which needed the cooperation of all the people; she wanted the people to understand how much money, human resources and time has to be expended and how difficult contact tracking was; according to the latest numbers, infection spread in Yangon has increased greatly; Yangon has a large population; apart from that during the last 3 or 4 months, the people in Yangon had become careless; and their willingness to follow rules and guidelines had become very weak. She continued by saying that they have issued new instructions apart from the rules and regulations already in place; she wanted to public to know that action would be taken according to the rules and regulations and also under the Natural Disaster Management Law; some people do not like the fact that stringent action would be taken; they need to understand why such strict action needed to be taken; especially in a place like Yangon city if there was an outbreak of the disease, it would be very difficult to give full medical treatment to everyone. She added it has been now almost half a year that we have been facing the COVID disease; we can aspire to overcome the COVID challenge if we can contain the disease properly; news have come out that in some countries they have started to produce this vaccine; we still cannot say to what extent this is correct; we can know for certain only after the WHO has made a thorough assessment. If we can continue to meet the challenge relating to COVID-19 with discipline, we would not have to suffer for long. She said that if the infection spread due to lack of discipline, it would become longer than necessary.
Discussion of Dr Thet Su Mon, the Assistant-Director of Yangon Region’s Public Health Dept
The COVID-19 has transformed into a global pandemic, and the control measures are being conducted in line with the guidelines of national committee. The latest reports on 1 and 2 September have shown there are 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yangon Region; among them, 11 cases were identified while they are receiving other treatments at the hospital; the family members of positive cases are now living in residential areas; doctors from the contact tracing teams have informed their family members about the cases about possible infection through close contacts; health workers explained the need of early treatments for early recovery from the disease. The primary contacts of confirmed cases were kept under quarantine arranged by the Yangon Region government in coordination with health workers and the relevant COVID committees; the role of volunteers play a crucial role in sending the contacted family members to the quarantine centres; the possible transmission from 25 positive cases was prevented as the cases were found in the quarantine centres. The medical workers had to make video calls to family members in showing the face of doctors; they also worried about discrimination in their communities; there was no local transmission after 17 May in Yangon despite the cases from flight returnees and border returnees; when new cases were discovered in Rakhine State in second and third weeks of August, more doctors from districts were assigned for duties, taken part by the volunteers.
Discussions of Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Major-General Soe Tint Naing
The COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee’s Secretary Office is working for the rule of law, contact tracing, awareness programmes and coordination in administrative works; the secretary office is formed with 21 members, including the directors from the Union Ministries for the 11 tasks; five necessary food items were supplied to the families with no regular income; videoconferencing is used to hold discussion with security and border affairs, ministers for coordination. The technical department of the Ministry of Home Affairs is monitoring the false news and wrong information on social media to prevent public fears and unnecessary gatherings. The committee removed 5 websites, 15 pages, three groups and 35 accounts until August and legal actions have been against these individuals under Article 66 (d) of Telecommunications Law, while the Ministry of Home Affairs has developed the ‘Stop COVID-19’ application which has received about 700,000 users; the application is to post of local and international news in real-time.
The secretary office set up two hotline phones for prevention of crimes for 24 hours every day; most of the reports were about foreign returnees who failed to inform to local authorities, unlicensed tuitions and KTV lounges amid restrictions. People need to abide by the directives and rules of the central committee to foster the rule of law; the committee is collecting information with the help of Myanmar Police Force, the Special Investigation teams and Special Branch; the office has to report to the national committee about the status of public adherence to the directives and guidelines; the office had to inform about the negligence of public on guidelines for enforcement.
The MPF could effectively conduct contact tracing; it collected the data of returnees as they need to stay in quarantine at the border areas or their regions. However, some persons came back the country illegally and stayed at their homes without informing to local authorities; as contact tracing process is related with the police works and it is very effective in disease control measures.
Discussions of Head of GAD in Yangon’s south district U Nay Win Aung
The department worked closely with the Department of Public Health since the first case was confirmed in the country and arranged for sending the patients to the respective hospitals while cooperating in administrative and security sector. The department is conducting awareness programmes to be able to identify contact persons to be sent to the quarantine centres and their swabs to the labs while ensuring safety measures for health workers and administrative officials. The district GAD office had to collaborate with health workers, officers, MPF and Traffic Police unit. Community based facility and quarantine centre have been set up at the respective townships with the assistance of health workers, members of Red Cross Society and Fire Services Department, as well as volunteers from CSOs. Mobile fever clinic vehicles were used for medical services in the areas with positive cases; the works have improved after working together with We Love Yangon civic organization.
Discussions of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
In response to the discussions, the State Counsellor said that the citizens also need to take responsibility in controlling the COVID-19 spread, and if COVID-19 related rules are obeyed, the probability of infection will considerably decrease; most of the cases occurred because many people failed to adhere to the rules; some people followed the guidelines but they were also infected because a lot of people from their environment failed to stick to the guidelines; health department will provide medical treatments to the patients, but every person needs to be responsible too; the problem of the nation is related to all citizens. This problem poses a severe danger to the country; the spread of the disease can be controlled only if every person is responsible. The spread of the disease is possible to be controlled in Rakhine State, but it will be challenging to control the outbreak in places like Yangon. More than 7,000 people travelled from Sittway to Yangon from 10 August to today; now travel from Sittway to Yangon has been prohibited. One can think how more than 7,000 people can spread the disease. Those people who travelled from Sittway to Yangon via flight might continue their trip to other regions/states, those people may extend to a lot of places across the country, so those who travelled from Sittway to Yangon via flight need to contact relevant authorities. If they fail to do it, legal actions will be taken against them. Some people may not like facing legal actions, and the government does not want to do it, but legal steps are essential. Contact tracing was conducted, and all people who had contacts with confirmed COVID-19 patients have been quarantined; that’s why Myanmar can control the COVID-19 outbreak. Majority of Myanmar citizens have to live in narrow houses or apartments; so if a person is infected with COVID-19, the person’s family members will also be infected, and then people around them will also be infected. The government is exerting efforts to prevent those occurrences, and the country has to spend too much for the tasks to prevent the spread of the disease, but the life of every citizen is priceless, so the government takes no account of costs. People need to value themselves.
Concluding remarks of the State Counsellor
In giving her concluding remarks the State Counsellor said that one of the reasons for being able to successfully contain COVID-19 was because infected people were quarantined early and given medical treatment; in the early days there were few infections and there were only 6 fatalities. Thus the people became careless. Everyone needed to participate and coordinate to successfully contain COVID; there were now 400 infected people in Yangon region; stay-at-home orders are being issued if there were more than three infected person in one township; the number of townships with more than three infected persons have increased. We will have to issue stay-at-home orders for many areas in Yangon; now is the time for people in Yangon to show their mettle; everyone’s cooperation was needed. People are the key and we can achieve success only with the participation of the people; every individual need to protect not only himself or herself but also the surrounding area; the Union Government would of course provide as much assistance as possible; the people need to provide help for the Government assistance to be effective; the administrative sector has to bear the brunt of the people’s hatred the most; in a situation like this if they could work for the people’s interest, this department could become the most loved instead of the most hated department. Government departments must become trustworthy and dependable. The latest statistics show there are 398 positive cases in Rakhine State, 400 in Yangon, 62 in Insein Township and 49 in Hline Township and the numbers are increasing. It does not need to be afraid of these numbers but rather place more emphasis on following rules. The Ministry of Home Affairs must strictly enforce the law. I wouldn’t say I like those that don’t take responsibility, such as the people opening nightclubs amid the restrictions, as it is reckless and unsympathetic to the nation and its people. They need to face severe repercussions that spring from wanting to protect the nation. The law exists to implement stability, not punish citizens. However, people must understand that there are consequences of actions that damage that stability. They must understand the implications of the law and the purpose they were enacted. It is every government department’s duty to ensure citizens understand this. I wish for everyone to cooperate on preventing COVID from spreading any further. It is not enough for civil service staff to fulfil their duties; each and every citizen must perform their duties as well. You need to contact the authorities if you have come into proximity with people from Rakhine or know those who have. You will be protecting others, not reporting. Going into quarantine is not something to be afraid of, and you will not get into any trouble for saying you have come into contact with a COVID-positive patient. You will enter quarantine and receive treatment if necessary. That is why everyone must work together. I extend my gratitude to the three departments, the We Love Yangon group and similar organizations, the volunteers, and the people who are understanding and cooperative with us. —MNA (Translated by Aung Khin, Zaw Htet Oo)