‘I often thought about hurting myself’: factory workers suffer through shutdown

Ko Thant Zaw Win, 26, lies sprawled out on the floor, the dim overhead light illuminating the sweat glistening on his forehead. An unpleasant smell dominates the tiny space: too many people, too little ventilation. 

The room is just nine feet on each side; there’s only enough space for the four beds. Thant Zaw Win and his three roommates have barely left the room in the past four weeks, since the government brought in strict stay-at-home orders for Yangon Region on September 21 to control the spread of COVID-19. Saung Shwe Nay, the factory at which Thant Zaw Win works, closed three days later.

Day after day in this uncomfortable environment with nothing to do except worry about the future – how he’ll pay the bills, when he’ll be able to go back to work – has left Thant Zaw Win anxious, and possibly depressed. 

“I’ve been deeply unhappy but haven’t had any way to express it; all I could do was sigh out loud,” he said. “Thank you for asking how I’m feeling.”

He moved to this worker hostel because it was cheaper than his previous room; split four ways, the K70,000-a-month rent, including electricity, enables him to send back around K100,000 to his family in Bago Region’s Paungde Township.

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