Director-General of the Ministry of State Counsellor Office U Zaw Htay held an online press conference yesterday, about government’s management on various topics, including COVID-19 crisis.
Regarding the situations of COVID-19 in the country and government’s actions, the Director-General said the government formed a national-level committee on 13 March for prevention, containment and treatments and it was chaired by the State Counsellor; after reviewing the developing situations after the Thingyan Water Festival, the ‘stay home’ plan was adopted until 15 May as much as possible; during the interim period, ‘safely stay home’ rule was also ordered at the townships with positive patients in line with regulations with quite strict restrictions instead of total lockdown practiced in other countries; announcement to public has been extended from 15 to 31 May; some restrictions were relaxed in Shwepyitha, Hlinethaya, Mingaladon and Botahtaung townships of Yangon Region and Kalay Township of Sagaing; international flights has been suspended until 31 May.
He added daily wage workers and grass root people were supplied with five fundamental household food supplies (rice, cooking, salt, onion and beans) during the Thingyan holiday; nearly 4 million families enjoyed these relief supplies and the government had to spend K50.844 billion from the state revenue; plans have been made to provide a reasonable amount of financial assistance, not relief commodities, to the internally displaced persons and vulnerable grass root families under the Goal 4 of COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan.
The 3.99 million of families will be scrutinized through digital information this time in collaboration with the General Administration Department; discussions are also underway with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Central Bank of Myanmar and the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry to choose an appropriate online system for respective townships and villages; the government is discussing with the potential agents to be able to draw out cash by showing password on mobile phones and it is also expected to realize soon.
Some positive cases were found at people with overseas travel history and contact tracing; however, the government has put emphasis on contact tracing in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Sports and the local governments to be able to control transmission of the disease.
Myanmar has increased in capacity of test for COVID-19, while some other countries has returned to normal trend after lifting lockdown plan; they are trying to be familiar with upcoming situation; Myanmar government is also discussing to adopt an appropriate new scenario in the future and seeking advice from the relevant stakeholders on reopening of tea shops, restaurants, stalls, vendors and schools.
The World Health Organization has talked about transition to a ‘new normal’ during the COVID-19 pandemic as the pandemic could not disappear totally and to adopt a lifestyle amid this viral disease; the South Korea could control this disease better than other countries and it has relaxed lockdown orders; Myanmar also need to develop the habits of wearing mask outside, washing hands, physical distancing and taking body temperature in daily life; it would become a ‘new normal’ in Myanmar; the State Counsellor is leading to find the best ways for introducing appropriate regulations.
Although the price of masks skyrocketed at the initial stage of COVID-19 up to K500-600 per piece, but it has declined by half at present and it is expected to decrease more; there are some cloth face mask that meet health guidelines; the masks in the quality nearly like N95 and medical masks could become popular among the public as it would be required in the future lifestyles; the COVID-19 orders have been extended to 31 May and more preparations will be made in the remaining period.
Questions of news media
Media persons raised questions about the stance of government on calling for ceasefire across the country, including Rakhine State, exclusion of AA in ceasefire announcement of the Tatmadaw, elimination of illegal drug production, directives to relax restrictions in four townships of Yangon and Kalay Township of Sagaing Region, second package of relief supplies to the families, reopening of basic education schools, suggestion of Chinese ambassador to resume Belt and Road Initiative project, the number of foreign returnees and medical tests for COVID-19 to the civil service employees.
The journalists also asked an alternative plan to cease armed clashes in Rakhine State, the number of civilian deaths in Rakine conflicts, reviewing plans on 150 electricity units, the government’s plans to provide relief items to the IDP camps in Paletwa, actions against a video file went viral online, transfer of 22 Indian prisoners, legal action against Saw David La who is now held under quarantine, second package of relief aid to families and public contributions and possible allocation of budget for COVID-19.
They also raised queries about suspension of internet services in some townships of Rakhine State, finding all the announcements in a single site, releasing matriculation results, informing university teachers to return works on 18 June, recruiting more staff members of electricity sector, actions on a woman who reached near the home and asked to meet with State Counsellor, coordination of departments on community forests, difficulties of people in getting land registration forms and status of second package relief plan for the families.
Answers to media questions
Director-General U Zaw Htay replied that AA has been declared a terrorist group. AA and ARSA are not inclusive in the unilateral ceasefire. The acts of AA amount to terrorism. The Government in office has prioritized the anti-drug drive. The drug problem has relations with peace process. The people and EAOs should join hands in the drive.
Over K 50 billion was spent in distributing basic food items for the grassroots relying on daily earnings. Nearly K 18,000 were distributed to every household. But the commodity prices vary depending on the locations. But the value did not exceed K 20,000. It is learnt that disputes occurred at the basic levels in distributing food. Leaders of the State are seeking ways to distribute the aids fully to the targeted persons. So, negotiations are underway with Online Payment Agents. The relevant ministries are also seeking a suitable way. The current distribution can be twice the value of the previous one. News about the distribution will be released when the approval is made. Plans are underway to channel the aids to about four million households, he said.
The DG said the second distribution programme will be conducted within few weeks. Some problems were face in applying the swiftest means. Forms have been sent down to the wards and villages to have a comprehensive list, and an Online Payment system is underway. It may take two to three weeks. Some did not fully receive the five kinds of food items distributed by the government through the administrative machinery. Complaints presented in video clips have appeared on the Facebook pages. So, we have to take into account these complaints. In some cases rice or cooking oil is bought at the local markets. It is learnt that some received the full amount of food aids, but some didn’t. Most of the complete-set of aids reached the destinations, and only the minority faced such problems, he said.
He said we are thinking of means to send the aids right into the hands of the targeted persons. We are taking into account the use of Wave Money, Ok dollar, and KBZ Pay as they may be suitable means. We can transfer the money directly to the targeted persons just by knowing their phone numbers. We can provide them with secret code, and the agents cannot draw the money if they do not know the code. Coordination will be made by the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Central Bank of Myanmar for this part. We should know which payment system is suitable for a particular place. The cost of delivering the five kinds of food varies from K 20,000 to K 10,000 and K 15,000 depending on the locality. We have planned to use up to K 30,000 or K 40,000.
So we are looking in our delivery plan in detail. According to the previous experience, we have come to know that disputes occurred in designating the grassroots. So we consider sending the forms first. So, we can choose the targeted persons depending on the occupation and income. Records will be computerized so, they can be available at the same time in all difference places. We are taking time in realizing this type of programme. We are gathering all the lists. We are trying to find means for the convenience of the grassroots and to reduce the wastage, the DG explained.
U Zaw Htay then said preparations are underway to issue the list of foreign and local donors. Some donate kind and others cash. The process of Covid-19 inspection may be slow, but it is comprehensive. We are conducting experiment on the test kids for improving the inspection capacity. Plans are underway to use more test kids. We are trying to conduct Covid-19 test in Mandalay, Mawlamyine and Shan State, apart from the National Health Laboratory. The Government is paying serious attention to the Covid-19. It will continue to implement its original programmes as usual. It will reach agreements with various countries in addition to China. A total of 888 came back to Myanmar through Myawady and Phayathonsu, and none of them is found to be positive. They are now placed in quarantine. There may be a delay in the reacceptance programme, positive cases were found at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The common border is closed. There is no plan to conduct Covid-19 test on government staff, as it is not necessary. The test is conducted on the persons assigned at the crucial places and jobs. The States introduced the 150-unit free electricity supply programme, mainly for the grassroots. The government has to subsidize Ks 35.5 billion for over 4.49 million households, he noted.
As regards the situation in Rakhine State, some armed clashes broke out in Paletwa area. Civilian casualty list will be issued when available. Ethnic races are living in Paletwa. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is providing assistance to IDP camps in Paletwa. As regards the viral video file on the intenet, the Tatmadaw has established a court of inquiry for the case. Under the Constitution there are military court and the civilian court. All the global countries also have the military court of justice.
The transfer of 22 Indian citizens is concerned with National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K). Military operations were launched from January to March in 2019 in the area. Legal measures were also taken. The NSCN-K presented a pardon to the President and the State Counsellor. Moreover, Naga literature and culture committees also present a pardon to the President and the State Counsellor. The President granted amnesty for all the 22 persons on the Myanmar New Year Day.
The 22 were related to the groups active in Assam and Manipur states. They are Indian citizens. The Myanmar Police Force transferred the 22 to acting Indian consul at Khamti airport. They were then taken to India from there. Myanmar transferred all the 22 persons, the news about the death of one of them in jail is just a fake. We have the list, he said.
IDP cams in Rakhine State have internet access. Covid-19 awareness campaigns are carried there. Maungtaw has the internet. Health knowledge is being distributed through the SMS. In areas where there is no internet access, village administrators are conducting Covid-19 awareness campaigns with the help of loudspeakers. The Ministry of SWRR will spend K 2.2 billion for the anti-Covid-19 drive. It will prioritize the IDP camps. Coordination is being made with ICRC, he said.
The DG assured that legal action will be taken against Saw David Lar. He said the problem with land records forms occurs not only in Bago Region, but also in all parts of the country. Officials concerned will be informed about the matter. The half-present-half-absent programme for government staff goes on till further order is issued. According to the instructions travelling is banned, except from attending a funeral. Failure to observe them will be met with civil service laws.
A woman approached the residence of the State Counsellor at 10:10 pm on 14 March. She entered Nay Pyi Taw in the late evening, and cried that she wished to meet the State Counsellor. So the leader of members of the police on security duty asked her questions. She never gave any answer. After checking her, the police phoned her father. According to the information, she left the house before 10 am, she is suffering from mental disorder and is receiving medical treatment, she wished to file a complaint at her website, she wanted a rescue as there was injustice, she stated her NRC number on the website and said there was one person who could save her. Her parents arrived on 15 May. A medical checkup was conducted and found that she was really suffering from mental disorder. Her parents were asked to sign the letter of pledge. The case was submitted to the upper level to take follow-up measures. An instruction came from the upper level that if she was really suffering from mental disorder, she must be released for medical treatment. She will be escorted by police to the mental hospital in Yangon, said the DG.
He then answered the questions raised by the media persons. —Myo Myint, Han Lin Naing, Aung Ye Thwin
(Translated by Aung Khin & TMT)