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Following Aung San Suu Kyi’s 6 September announcement of Myanmar’s 2020 general election campaign period – from 8 September to 6 November – Facebook users across Myanmar uploaded red National League for Democracy flags across their profile pictures. In western Myanmar, Facebook users were uploading images of red flames engulfing villages.
Together with the confirmation of numerous new COVID-19 cases in Myanmar, operating conditions for humanitarian agencies in western Myanmar have changed – perhaps irreversibly. Concerns among response actors about government suggestions of new response modalities may be overblown, but the conversation reflects the urgent need to review the infrastructure of the Rakhine response for a ‘new normal’.
According to reports from Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports, COVID-19 has decisively spread to western Myanmar. At the time of writing, 171 locally transmitted cases had been reported in Rakhine State in the previous 10 days, and 176 cases are now active. Cases are clustered around the state capital of Sittwe, but with further cases confirmed further south and north. With dozens of new cases confirmed each day, and armed conflict continuing in the north of the state, western Myanmar may be on the precipice of a full-blown humanitarian emergency.