Myanmar unaware of COVID-19 pandemic due to internet shutdown

A year-long brutal internet shutdown in Myanmar has led to a large part of the citizenry being caught unaware about the coronavirus pandemic. Large parts of the population reportedly haven’t even heard of the virus, along with its impact.

The lockdown was a result of clashes between an ethnic minority group, The Rakhine and the Army. Myanmar so far has kept the virus at bay, with only 293 reported cases but information about the virus and the symptoms associated with it is indispensable. The rights group Human Rights Watch was quoted as “With armed conflict between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army in Rakhine State amid a pandemic, it’s critical for civilians to get the information needed to stay safe.”

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The Conflict

The ongoing conflict has the army operating on what some call “a scorched earth model,” where they cut off communication of the inhabitants of the area to keep control. The shutdown has been in place since the 21st of June, 2019. The Rakhine are fighting for autonomy and freedom as they form an ethnic minority, long disadvantaged by the Burmese and fear a Rohingya like fate. The governing official was quoted as saying, “I have to explain to them what social distancing is and how to practice proper hand hygiene. I can’t travel widely because of COVID-19, obviously, so there are only so many people I can warn”

The situation starkly acts as a metaphor for the ground realities of the country, where the leader (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Aung Sang Syuu Ki is heading a “No Person Left Behind” campaign to spread information about the virus.

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