Coronavirus News Asia

Myanmar’s viral denial turns to economic despair

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YANGON – Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is scrambling to roll out Covid-19 relief measures in a race to prevent businesses and banks from collapsing under the weight of the global pandemic.

In late April, her government issued a 15-page “Covid-19 Economic Relief Plan” which broadly outlined its responses to the pandemic, though without committing to an overall cost or details on how the plan will be implemented.

So far the impact of the pandemic has been mostly economic in Myanmar. As of May 14, the country had recorded only 181 Covid-19 cases and six deaths, though there is widespread skepticism about the figures due to a lack of testing. The government was earlier widely criticized for claiming there were no cases in the country.

Deputy Finance Minister Set Aung indicated the relief package would inject the kyat equivalent of around US$2 billion into the local economy, representing between 3-4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The stimulus package will be funded by budget reallocations, central bank financing and assistance from international financial institutions, authorities said.

Set Aung also said the government is in talks with development partners to secure foreign aid assistance in order to help finance the relief plan.

Senior officials are now consulting with the private sector, including foreign chambers of commerce in Yangon, as well as the World Bank and other financial institutions on how best to implement the inchoate plan.

The program seeks to “mitigate the inevitable economic impact posed by Covid-19 while establishing foundations that will facilitate Myanmar’s rapid economic recovery,” said Suu Kyi in the document’s foreword.

Aung San Suu Kyi in a face mask to protect against the coronavirus, May 12, 2020. Image: Facebook

“By acting now, decisively” Myanmar can ease the economic burden of individuals and households, strengthen the healthcare capacity and emerge post-pandemic “from a position of strength,” the former Nobel laureate added.

Shortly before the stimulus package was announced, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected Myanmar would be among only 10% of economies worldwide to post positive economic growth this year amid a coronavirus-caused global recession.

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