Jul 20 2021
(IPS) – The third wave of Covid-19 is sweeping through Myanmar, from the high
narrow buildings of the commercial capital Yangon to bamboo houses in rural
Ma Ni, not
her real name, caught the virus in Yangon, infected by her husband and son. But
no members of the family show up in the official numbers because they preferred
to buy a home test instead of going to a hospital or a quarantine centre.
seven days with COVID now,” 34-year-old Ma Ni says. “My husband needs oxygen,
but we cannot get it … I hope God will save us.”
family is not alone. According to the military’s Ministry of Health, Myanmar
recorded 3,461 new cases of COVID-19 and 82 deaths on July 11 alone.
since the pandemic first struck, Myanmar has reported almost 4,000 deaths.
Videos circulating on social networks show a dramatic increase in the number of
bodies taken to Yangon’s crematorium.
numbers, although certainly under-reported, are far lower than they were in
Europe, the US or India, but they are growing. Moreover, the impact of COVID-19
has been compounded by the aftermath of the military coup on February 1 that
ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and triggered nationwide protests,
resulting in more than 900 deaths and thousands of prisoners, according to the
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an NGO based in Thailand.
result, hundreds of panicking citizens are shying away from testing and
quarantine facilities perceived as mismanaged by the unpopular military.
die than go to a military hospital,” Ko Moe, again not a real name, tells IPS.
“I don’t trust them, and given my work as a volunteer ambulance driver, they
might arrest me for helping the protestors.”
military is trying to stop private initiatives, even shooting to disperse a
crowd queuing to refill oxygen tanks. It is also forbidding producers to
distribute oxygen to ineligible citizens, saying people are hoarding it
people think otherwise. Deep inside the country, in the city of Taunggyi, Shan
State, a doctor interviewed by IPS says people are organising themselves
autonomously to cope with the emergency because the health system has collapsed.
now, things look still normal here but … many donors and well-wishers have set
up a committee to install oxygen plants by themselves to help the people in the
city and the small villages around Taunggyi,” she tells IPS.
are expressed all over social networks and emotional appeals for help from the
international community or obituaries of loved ones who succumbed to the virus.
also the flu season, which many, feeling abandoned by the State or unable to
afford private facilities, mistake for COVID.
situation is pretty chaotic. There have been many outbreaks of COVID but also
of seasonal flu, in major cities and rural regions,” another doctor working for
a private hospital in Yangon tells IPS on condition of anonymity. “People are
frustrated for not getting efficient medical care from the authorities, while
general hospitals cannot operate on a full scale since the majority of civil
service doctors have joined the disobedience movement and there are only a few
doctors and nurses left,” he says.
only a small percentage of citizens have been vaccinated against the virus. The
ongoing protests that started in February have crammed prisons with political
prisoners, turning the repression into an epicentre of the outbreak.
recent trip to Russia, junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing announced the
purchase of 5 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine. However, it may be too
little, too late to avoid an unprecedented health crisis in a country of over
54 million people only partly controlled by the military.
international community is also accused of not helping, having been already
stigmatised for failing to do anything to support Burmese citizens during the
coup, beyond statements of condemnation.
The UN special
rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews told the Human Rights Commission on July 13
that the junta lacks the “capabilities and the legitimacy to bring this crisis
under control”. And the lack of trust in the military makes this crisis
“particularly lethal”, he said.
from the opposition ‘Milk Tea Alliance Burma’ expressed the sentiment of the
public in a Tweet: “Last year, the pandemic was contained successfully in
Myanmar because of collective efforts of everyone. DASSK (Aung San Suu Kyi) was
influencing the public well, holding campaigns to make cloth masks, the public
followed the instructions well, they masked up and stayed at home without
population mistrustful of the military and pro-democracy protests continuing,
albeit on a much smaller scale, rules are often overlooked.
app tracing people’s movements shows that the situation is back to the pre-coup
situation in terms of traffic and crowds in the streets. Many shops may appear
to be closed from the outside but are working at normal capacity behind. Masks
are usually left at home.
military has a history of resistance to international aid despite being
unequipped to deal with an emergency, as happened in the disastrous aftermath
of cyclone Nargis in 2008. The junta is unlikely to change its isolationist
stance now, and international help may well be limited, according to a diplomat
in Yangon, interviewed by IPS.
not going to change anything for the junta, it’s taking people’s minds off the
revolution, so it’s not such a bad thing for the military,” he says, asking not
to be named for security reasons.