Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19: July Update for MYANMAR
Impact of COVID-19
Immediate health impacts on people and systems
As of 6 July, 313 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Myanmar with six deaths. Imported cases make up the vast majority of confirmed cases since mid-May. The Government has maintained surveillance at international border crossings as well as at the community level. A number of hospitals have been designated for the treatment of COVID-19 patients and quarantine and contact tracing systems have been established. Laboratory capacity has been expanded significantly and the UN has continued to support the Government’s testing strategy, including through the provision of tens of thousands of test kits.
Despite these efforts, a large-scale outbreak would pose very serious challenges for the health system, particularly in humanitarian settings. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in overcrowded camps and non-displaced stateless persons in rural areas of Rakhine with limited access to healthcare, safe water and sanitation services will be particularly vulnerable in the event of local-level outbreaks. The confirmation of several COVID-19 cases in a refugee transit centre in northern Rakhine in early June was a stark reminder of the very serious risks that remain among the most vulnerable communities.
Indirect impacts on people and systems
Despite the relatively low number of confirmed cases, COVID-19 continues to severely impact the economy, with disruptions to supply chains, reduced export demand, a halving of tourism revenue and reduced foreign remittances all compounding growing unemployment and a broader economic slowdown. Economic growth predictions are, at best, half that of 2019.
The rapid return of tens of thousands of migrant workers from Thailand, China and elsewhere has generated additional urgent needs for basic assistance at points of entry and quarantine locations, placing further strain on already fragile health services and community resources, particularly in rural areas.
The pandemic has also disrupted food systems, limiting the availability of and access to nutritious food. Water scarcity and food shortages, combined with ongoing conflict, are expected to exacerbate nutrition-related vulnerabilities, especially among children and women. The long-term impact on nutrition could be severe.
Educational facilities and child-friendly spaces within displaced communities remain suspended, though schools are to reopen in July. These closures have increased child protection risks, learning loss and school dropout rates, with children in displaced and vulnerable communities less likely to return to school, and adolescent girls exposed to heightened protection risks, including gender-based violence (GBV). Schools have been widely used as quarantine facilities, creating further complications for the timely and safe resumption of education.
Response priorities and challenges
Priorities and early achievements
The Humanitarian Country Team has updated the COVID-19 Addendum to the 2020 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan, which now extends until the end of 2020. The update provides for support for an additional 10,000 returning migrants, with COVID-19-specific financial requirements having increased by US$13 million to $275.3 million.
Humanitarian organizations are continuing to scale up COVID-19 prevention and response preparedness in camps, displacement sites and conflict-affected areas, as well as supporting Government efforts to assist returning migrant workers in quarantine facilities. Activities include further strengthening surveillance systems, enhanced infection prevention and control measures in public places, quarantine and health facilities, case management and contact tracing.
Response activities include:
Education: Continuing remote support to children, teachers, and parents and caregivers; remote support to volunteer teachers and implementation of home-based learning packages.
Food Security: Adapted distribution arrangements to reduce the risk of transmission; expanded number of distribution points to further reduce risks.
Protection: Ongoing work to ensure protection considerations incorporated into COVID-19 preparedness, prevention and response activities with a focus on child protection, GBV and mental health and psychosocial support. GBV data collection to be increased concurrent with implementation of legal, policy and administrative tools, and capacity-building with government partners.
Shelter/NFIs/CCCM: Prepositioned ready-to-deploy shelter solutions in support of Government facility quarantine locations as well as other infrastructure to expand/enhance medical facilities and support the local production of PPE.
WASH: Expanded hygiene promotion and RCCE activities; increased supply of hand washing stations/materials and disinfection materials.
Challenges and impact to operations
The operating environment remains highly constrained and is becoming more challenging. Existing access restrictions – notably in non-government-controlled areas and conflict-affected parts of Rakhine and Chin states – will likely persist. The reach of health services into non-government-controlled areas remains limited, and the capacities of ethnic health organizations operating in these areas are severely stretched. For IDPs in camps, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and lack of space for self-monitoring and quarantine will exacerbate the virus risk and challenge the response.
Access constraints and a ban on mobile internet services in most conflict-affected townships in Rakhine continue to impede humanitarian assistance as well as communication of risk messages and referral instructions. The safe collection and transportation of specimen samples from conflict-affected areas and non-government-controlled areas also remains challenging.
International supply chain disruptions have restricted procurement of life-saving medical and other supplies. Enhanced disease surveillance and a clear understanding of patient referral pathways for camps is crucial, especially in non-government-controlled areas and areas of active armed conflict, particularly as the monsoon takes hold across much of Myanmar, bringing with it additional health risks and logistical challenges.