Myanmar Updates on the COVID-19 Pandemic
Government, Ministerial & Regulatory Update
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (“WHO”) declared the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID–19”) to be a pandemic. After this declaration, on 13 March 2020, the President Office announced the establishment of a Central Committee to Prevent, Control and Treat the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“the Committee”). The Committee was formed so as to enable prompt responses from the respective ministries and departments. On 30 January 2020 the Committee was updated to be the National Level Central Committee for Prevention, Control and Cure for COVID–19.
The relevant ministries and government bodies that makes up the Committee includes, the President Office, Ministry of Health and Sports, Central Bank of Myanmar, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, Media Council, State Counsellor Office, Union Supreme Court, and Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (“DICA”).
New Government Committee
The President Office issued Notification No. 53/2020 on 30 March 2020 which established a new government body, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID – 19) Containment and Emergency Responsive Committee” comprising of 10 members including high level ministers such as the Vice President 1, Union Minister for Defence, Union Minister for Border Affairs, Union Minister for Home Affairs and Union Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population. The Committee has been tasked with a wide range of functions including the investigation, detection and handling of persons infected with COVID-19, and coordination of various governmental and non-governmental organisations to respond to COVID-19.
Central Bank of Myanmar
The Central Bank of Myanmar issued Directive No. 4/2020 on 24 March 2020 to reduce the interest rate from 9.5% to 8.5% annually for the second time. It was reduced from 10% to 9.5% under Directive No. 1/2020 and 2/2020 issued on 12 and 13 March 2020 respectively.
On 18 March 2020, the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry issued Notification No. 1/2020 to remedy the economic repercussions caused by COVID-19. The Notification provides for the establishment of a COVID-19 Fund and tax relief for qualifying business. The following measures are provided for under the Notification:
- A COVID-19 Fund will be established at the Myanmar Economic Bank with a MYK 100 billion capital, composed of MYK 50 billion from the from national Revolving Fund approved by the Union Government and MYK 50 billion from the Social Security Fund. The Fund is to be used to provide loans to Cut, Make, and Pack (“CMP”) business, hotels and tourism companies, and SMEs owned by Myanmar nationals at an interest rate of 1% for a period of one year. The interest rate and loan period may revised at a later date depending on the severity of the economic impact.
- Exporters will be exempted from payment of 2% Advance Income Tax until the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
- For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the tax payment period for income and commercial tax has been extended until 30 September 2020.
Restriction of Movement
Myanmar, similar to countries around the world has now implemented three types of quarantine, community based facility quarantine, home quarantine and hotel quarantine, particularly for persons who have returned or been repatriated from abroad including migrant workers in neighbouring countries.
Quarantine is to be strictly carried out whereby failure to do so will lead to strict statutory penalties such as, imprisonment, fine or both in accordance with the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law 1995.
The government had on 10 April 2020 to 19 April 2020 announced restriction of mass gatherings and public events, including the Thingyan Water Festival due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 via public gatherings.
Precautionary measures have been set up at the border between Thailand, China and India with officials wearing surgical masks and testing the temperatures of all repatriated persons. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MOFA”) have also issued restrictive measures for both foreign and Myanmar citizens coming back from abroad to undergo compulsory quarantine.
The Myanmar Government has temporarily suspended the issuance of Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) and e-visa for all countries until 30 April 2020. Additionally, MOFA has also announced the temporary suspension of all types of visas including social visas for foreign nationals from all countries, which is in force until 30 April 2020.
The Department of Civil Aviation under the Ministry of Transport and Communications had issued a circular on 29 March 2020 for the temporary suspension of all international passenger flights landing in Myanmar in order to prevent the importation of COVID-19 into Myanmar from 30 March 2020 until 13 April 2020. On 11 April 2020, the international flight restrictions were extended up to 30 April 2020. Furthermore, all landing permission previously granted by the Department of Civil Aviation are revoked.
Business that deals especially with people such as restaurants, teashops and food shops are only allowed to sell take away. The Government is also encouraging working from home and online application of services to avoid any gathering of people.
The President Office issued a directive on 25 March 2020 to separate government staff with a 50% working at the office and the other 50% “work from home” arrangement namely being on stand-by at home or in their quarters. The government’s stance on this is to take precautionary measures against infection within the civil service. Further, in an announcement on 4 April 2020, the President Office has restricted government staff from returning to their home towns during the Thingyan holiday period so as to curb the spread on any infections within the civil service and such home leave period is proposed to be substituted at a later date.
Governmental departments are officially open and remaining functioning with a reduced capacity arising from the rotation arrangements stated above. Some governmental departments such as those regularly receiving outside visitors like DICA and the Myanmar Investment Commission have restricted public access only to a pre-determined area. Other governmental authorities may on a case to case basis impose such further limitations although at the time of writing there is no official directive or notifications from the authorities.
Sector Specific Restrictions
The Ministry of Health and Sport (“MOHS”) issued an order on 28 February 2020 confirming that COVID-19 is an infectious disease and any cases or suspicious cases needs to be reported. Those returning from abroad will need to be quarantined under the awareness and warning issued by MOHS on 22 March 2020.
MOHS has also issued the following:
- Guidelines on home quarantine issued on 26 March 2020
- Guidelines on community based facility quarantine issued on 26 March 2020
- Guidelines on hotel/guest house quarantine issued on 26 March 2020
The guidelines for home quarantine is for anyone who returns from borderline checkpoint. They and their family and are required to be home quarantined to prevent community transmission.
Similarly, guidelines for facility quarantine and hotel/guestroom quarantine are provided for anyone who returned from borderline checkpoint and abroad. This guideline for returnees are as follows:
- Maintain home arrangement such as allocating a separate room with good ventilation at home if possible and keeping a distance of at least one meter from the family members.
- Maintain good personal hygiene.
- Maintain good environmental hygiene such as avoid going to public places, accepting visitors and interacting with other people.
- The home quarantined person is expected to monitor body temperature using a thermometer twice a day. If he/she develops fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, immediately inform nearest health department of the area.
- Facility Quarantine Centers will be checked by the authorities and health workers and must be in good ventilation with enough space for a person.
- While separate rooms are better, if this cannot be done, the distance between each person must be one meter separated by partition. If there is no partition, the distance must be two meters.
- Essential basic needs and water, foods, medicines will be provided.
- If the quarantined person suffers fever, cough, exhaust and other symptoms, they must informed the authorities/health workers immediately for treatment.
- Hotel/Guest House Quarantine Centers will be checked by the authorities and health workers. Each rooms can be only occupied by one person at a time.
However, further information and research from WHO and China has found out that the incubation period of the virus is more than 14 days. In light of the rising number of COVID-19 confirmed cases, MOHS has issued a new announcement on 11 April 2020 for facility and hotel quarantine extending the quarantined period from 14 days into 21 days with seven days under home quarantine, totaling 28 days
MOHS has also issued Notification No. 37/2020 on 16 April 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as confirmed cases had reached 85 cases and there have been issues with social gathering. The Notification prohibits the gathering of more than five persons, except for the following:
- commuting to the workplace at government departments/organisations;
- commuting to workplace at companies and factories;
- selling and buying at permitted markets and shopping malls;
- transporting permitted cargo;
- carrying out judicial matters; and
- funeral matters.
Failure to follow the Notification, action will be taken under the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases Law.
B. Export & Import
The Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industrial with the approval from the Union Government issued Notification No. 1/2020 on 18 March 2020 has issued an exemption of the 2% advance income tax levy for exports until the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The Ministry of Commerce issued Notification No. 21/2020 on 30 March 2020 which sets the types of goods that are considered essential supplies:
- health support supplies for the prevention, control and treatment for COVID–19;
- medicines; and
- food supplies.
It prohibits the increase of sale and distribution prices and hoarding of such supplies. The Government will take action against those who commit such activities with imprisonment for a minimum term of six months to a maximum of three years and liable to a find not exceeding MYK 500,000 (section 5 of the Essential Supplies and Services Law 13/2012).
On 17 March 2020, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (“MOLIP”) issued a notice letter suspending the issuance of overseas employment certificate and oversea employees’ application from 18 March 2020.
On 20 March 2020, MOLIP issued Notification No. 64/2020 stating that employees who become unemployed arising from redundancy or temporary/permanent closing of factories such as CMP, hotel and tourism and SMEs, will get one year free medical treatment, medical costs and travelling.
On 20 March 2020, MOLIP issued Directive No. 1/2020 stating that the closure of the registered business and the redundancy of employees shall be informed to the Social Security Board and contribution shall be suspended. If the business reopens from the temporarily closure, the employer shall inform the Social Security Board within 10 days and reimburse the contributions to the Social Security Board. Employees who become unemployed for various reasons shall be entitled to the benefits such as right to enjoy medical treatment, maternity allowance, medicine and travel allowance, right to enjoy medical treatment for pensioners and funeral allowance in accordance with the Social Security Rules 2012.
MOLIP issued Notification No. 63/2020 on 20 March 2020 to provide that due to the hardship faced by business in light of COVID-19, employers can make social security payments quarterly instead of monthly. This is applicable to all business registered under the Social Security Board.
D. Judicial sector
The Union Supreme Court announced on 25 March 2020 that all appointed cases from 30 March 2020 to 9 April 2020 will be adjourned and postponed to a later date to be announced. Consequently, all Township Courts, District Courts and Region/State High Courts have issued notices for adjournment of their trials.
E. Factories and Workplace Measures
MOHS has issued a instructions on 19 March 2020 which has been further updated on 30 March 2020 for factories and workplaces for the prevention and control of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (“MOHS Instructions”) to provide comprehensive guidance to employers, employees, workplaces and constructions sites on the prevention of COVID-19.
MOHS Instructions sets out, among others, the following:
- Employers to supervise the attendance and ensure that employees who are pregnant, exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or co-habitat with a person suspected of COVID-19 are not allowed in. Employees should avoid working in crowds.
- Arranged alternative transportation for employees and to provide hand sanitisers, tissues and face mask in the transport.
- Temperature checks should be conducted before entering the workplace and employees having a temperature of 38˚C or above should not be permitted to enter.
- To provide sufficient hand washing stations with soap, water or hand sanitisers, etc., to encourage and increase systematic handwashing. Employees should wash hands with soap and water frequently and avoid touching his/her own face before washing hands, observe personal hygiene, and maintain good eating and sleeping habits.
- At least one meter of distance between each worker to avoid crowding at the workplace and any disposable materials shall be thrown away systematically and for non-disposable items, to ensure proper cleaning after use.
- If any meetings are required, ensure at least one metre distance between attendees and the meeting shall be held in a venue with good ventilation.
- To ensure that the workplace is cleaned on a daily basis.
For construction sites, the Instructions limits the number of employees to no more than 50 employees at any one site and maintain a record of daily attendance of the employees at the sites.
On 19 April 2020, MOLIP further issued an announcement that factories and workplaces would only be allowed to re-open if that factory or workplace has complied with MOHS Instructions and such compliance would be subject to inspections by a combined MOHS and MOLIP team, to be conducted between 20 April 2020 and 30 April 2020. Consequently, a priority list of inspection for factories and workplaces was also announced, namely:
- pharmaceutical factories;
- food production factories;
- factories and workplaces that are in compliance with workplace health requirements and ready to resume operations (re-open);
- factories and workplaces with 1000 or more workers; and
- all other factories, workplaces and establishments.
The Permanent Secretary of MOLIP had on 20 April 2020 via a press interview with local media confirmed that only after an inspection has been carried out, that factories and workplaces would be allowed to reopen. For eligible workers affected by such closures, the authorities have also announced that social security benefits would be provided.
If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact Geraldine Oh, Aung Kyaing, May Myat Lin or your usual ZICOlaw Myanmar partner for more information.
This alert is for general information only and is not a substitute for legal advice.