Coronavirus News Asia

Covid-19 restores Myanmar military’s lost powers


CHIANG MAI – After weeks of implausible official denials, Myanmar is finally facing up to the reality of its Covid-19 outbreak.

The nation may also soon face a new political reality as the powerful military, or Tatmadaw, leverages the situation to roll back recently restored democratic rights and reimpose strict social and media controls harking to its previous junta rule.

On April 2, Myanmar acknowledged 16 coronavirus cases and one death from the pneumonia-like disease. But with only a few hundred people tested nationwide and in sight of the country’s abysmally poor medical infrastructure, even health officials believe those figures are likely only the tip of the Covid-19 iceberg.

In mid-March, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s government formed a 21-member committee she now heads to broadly manage the country’s Covid-19 situation.

On March 30, in a move some see as a Tatmadaw power play, another ten-member Covid-19 task force was formed to investigate cases, trace contacts of confirmed cases and clamp down including through arrests on “fake news” and “disinformation” that could cause “panic among the people.”   

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in a file photo. Photo: AFP Forum via EPA

The newer and more powerful task force significantly does not include Suu Kyi or even her health minister, an oddity considering the body’s Covid-19 containing remit.

Rather, it is headed by First Vice President Myint Swe, former general known for his past record of arrests and crackdowns, including a lead role in the lethal clampdown on the 2007 Buddhist-monk led “Saffron Revolution” protest.

Other task force members include all three military-appointed members of Suu Kyi’s Cabinet, namely the ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs, and Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo, the powerful joint chief of staff of the defense services. Five civilian ministers are also included.



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