Japanese firms evacuate employees from Myanmar on fears over health, shortage of flights

06, Apr. 2020

Few people are seen on a main street in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 4, 2020, as citizens avoid going out. Myanmar has confirmed 21 Covid-19 cases. (NNA)
Few people are seen on a main street in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 4, 2020, as citizens avoid going out. Myanmar has confirmed 21 Covid-19 cases. (NNA)

By Mami Saito

YANGON, NNA -- A growing number of companies are withdrawing Japanese employees from Myanmar on fear that international flights will run short and the developing country would be unable to handle any further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Many Japanese businesses in Myanmar fear the medical system could not respond if today’s relatively low caseload of 21 suddenly surged. The Yangon-based National Health Laboratory is the only site of its type that can conduct polymerase chain reaction tests that show whether someone has the virus. Myanmar lacks isolation rooms and hospitals that can treat patients with serious conditions.

At numerous Japanese-invested banks, trading houses and construction companies, only top-ranking officials are staying in Myanmar to do business, they told NNA, requesting anonymity.

At the same time, a growing number of firms in the widely impoverished country have evacuated or are preparing to evacuate all Japanese employees. Those firms plan to keep doing business remotely from Japan.

One major Japanese financial institution, which preferred to be unnamed, is preparing to withdraw all of its roughly 10 employees stationed at a local unit in Yangon unless a flight ban eases up, a senior official of the institution said. Now international flights are permitted on for special cases.

The company expects to establish a teleworking system between Japan and Myanmar prior to Thingyan, which is Myanmar’s New Year holiday that begins on April 10. “The biggest reason is that the continuation of flights can’t be guaranteed, and medical risks have grown here,” the official told NNA.

In contrast, some manufacturers in Myanmar have no intention of evacuating Japanese employees as they hope to keep operations stable.

All seven Japanese employees of a major Japanese beverage maker, which prefers to remain unnamed, are remaining at their property in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in the outskirts of Yangon. The unit’s factory is increasing production to answer growing demand as consumers stockpile drinks, according to a senior executive of this firm.

The Myanmar government has banned civilian flights to the country’s international airports from March 31 to April 13.

However, Japan-based carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) will likely be allowed to operate flights exclusively for Japanese nationals going home until April 13. That permission hinges on talks between the Japanese government and Myanmar authorities. ANA is the sole carrier that flies direct between the two nations, linking Yangon to Narita International Airport east of Tokyo.

A growing number of Japanese companies have entered the Myanmar market since the country shifted to civilian rule in 2011. As of March 2020, some 420 companies belonged to the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Myanmar.

Only consumers buying daily necessities are seen at a mall in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 4, 2020, although the mall usually bustles with people shopping ahead of Thingyan, Myanmar’s New Year. (NNA)
Only consumers buying daily necessities are seen at a mall in Yangon, Myanmar, on April 4, 2020, although the mall usually bustles with people shopping ahead of Thingyan, Myanmar’s New Year. (NNA)