Myanmar once hailed as a country that had handled the COVID-19 pandemic well is now fighting to control the virus. Since the beginning of August the cases have exploded starting in Rakhine with a bank employee. It’s a bit of a mystery how the first case even was infected but it’s clear now that the government is fighting to stop the spread. The country had already had a 4 month lock down and small to medium sized businesses have been battered financially. Many companies quickly shed staff and others cut the salaries of their staff in half. With a potential lockdown looming ahead here’s some cultural tips in how to survive COVID-19 as an expat.
Have your visa extended and Form-C up to date
It’s been a nightmare for most expat workers in Myanmar since COVID has hit. Many people had their flights canceled and therefore their visas expired while they were inside the country. The government initially made it extremely confusing and difficult to get visas extended. Currently it’s much easier and you can even extend an expired visa when before it wasn’t possible. If your visa is expired it makes it difficult for you to find a place to stay as well as move around the country. So keep your documents current.
Where a Mask all the time
Obviously in the west, wearing a mask has become something of a political talking point about personal freedom. In Myanmar it’s not a must to wear a mask. You can be fined for not wearing a mask although I doubt they are doing much enforcement of this. You also cannot enter most buildings without a mask. So be prepared to wear a mask, get your temperature checked, and give your name and phone number (in case they need to contact you about a case).
Be home before Curfew
Curfews for pandemics don’t make a ton of sense to me because most people are home anyway. If the bars and restaurants are closed anyway then why does it matter how late you stay out? The curfew in Yangon is 12 midnight. If you wait until 11:30 p.m. to go back home or your hotel, you might find it hard to get a taxi. This has led me to go home around 10 p.m. most nights, even on the weekends.
People are Paranoid
If you run a company be aware that your staff may be scared of the virus. Some may want to work from home even if it’s not mandated. If their job is able to be done at home then it’s fine. If not then you’ll need to have a difficult discuss with them about their job and salary. Currently in Yangon they have not announced that offices have to close. If the spread expands in the next week or two, you might see a complete shutdown.
Do all the necessary things you need to do to protect yourself and others. Even if you aren’t worried about the virus many people are and you should respect their feelings about it. Currently the future of business is in the hands of the government in their response to COVID-19. In the coming months it will become very clear if things were handled well. There is an election coming in November and so many people will be watching how the current government handles the current situation.
By - Ryan Russell