In Myanmar "the pandemic is being used as a weapon against the people." That is the message that Burmese doctors and volunteers repeat the most on social media to describe the serious health and political crisis that the country is grappling with. The Southeast Asian nation, plunged into chaos since the military coup on February 1, has registered an exponential increase in covid-19 cases since the beginning of July. The little credibility of the official data and the citizen's rejection of the military junta make it difficult, even for experts living for a long time in the country, to determine what is the real scope of a situation aggravated by the lack of medical supplies, mainly lack of oxygen.
In the absence of doctors, many hospitals have had to close. The covid-19 control centers have reached the top of their capacity and only accept the seriously ill. Critically ill patients with little chance of survival, and those with mild symptoms, are being sent home, as reported by Radio Free Asia, due to insufficient health facilities. “Doctors do not want to work under the orders of the military, and many are arrested. There are not enough staff, ”says Ba Kaung, a Bagan resident who prefers to identify himself with a pseudonym.
“Almost all the oxygen is in the hands of the Army. My uncle is sick with covid in Yangon and the family is treating him at home. We don't trust the board. They have paid a lot of money to a private company to get an oxygen bottle, but you have to wait too long, ”explains Ba. Scenes of people lining up to receive oxygen cylinders and videos of corpses in the streets have fueled anger at the junta, while a disinformation war has broken out on Facebook and Twitter.
Thomas Andrews, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, denounces that a “storm” of factors – the coup, the collapse of the health system, migration, new variants of covid-19 and the seizure of equipment doctors by the Army – has become a human catastrophe, overshadowed by the growing unpopularity of the coup and the escalation of violence. "The crisis in Myanmar is particularly lethal due to the widespread mistrust of the military junta," adds Andrews, who has signed a petition addressed to the UN to create a politically neutral body to coordinate the response against COVID-19, including a vaccination program that Burmese can trust.
Former Burma, which like many other nations in the region managed to keep the pandemic relatively under control in 2020, appeared to emerge relatively afloat from its second wave of infections when the Army unconstitutionally overthrew the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, which It unleashed a tide of demonstrations that continues today. The popular agitation in the streets and the shortage of tests to detect the new coronavirus have led to the uncontrolled spread of the disease in the main cities of the country and a third viral outbreak that is being more lethal than the previous ones.
Health workers, who enjoy a great reputation among Burmese citizens, led the Civil Disobedience Movement last February, in opposition to the military coup junta. Since the coup, these professionals who left public hospitals and covid centers to demand the release of the deposed president, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the reestablishment of democracy, have become the target of reprisals from those in uniform. .
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, so far this year, there have been 260 attacks against health workers in Myanmar (almost half of the 587 attacks of this kind registered worldwide). The Army arrested Dr. Htar Htar Lin, former director of the country's vaccination program, in June on alleged charges of high treason for his alleged collaboration with the Government of National Unity, formed in April by elected officials who oppose the junta headed by General Min Aung Hlaing. Local media Myanmar Now Y The Irrawaddy warn that more and more doctors are detained and imprisoned for treating patients with symptoms of covid-19 independently.
Around 1.75 million people, only 3% of the population, have been immunized with the two doses of the vaccine. By early January, the overthrown government had bought 30 million Covidshield injections (sourced from India) and implemented one of the first vaccination campaigns in Southeast Asia. However, only 2 million such doses were administered before India banned exports to cope with its own crisis. No vaccines from the WHO COVAX program have reached Myanmar, allegedly because the board has refused to share vaccination plans. The military government has begun negotiations with Russia and China, and it is expected that 6 million doses of one of the Asian giant's vaccines – which has not been specified – will be delivered by August.
Joy Singhal, head of the Myanmar delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says that one in three people tested positive, and public health experts in the country estimate that 50 % of the 55 million Burmese will be infected in the coming weeks by the alpha or delta variant. The former Burma adds a total of 269,525 infections and 7,111 deaths. July 25 saw the highest death toll since the pandemic began, 355 in one day. Independent doctors and funeral home staff warn that the figures are much higher than the official ones, while, in reliable proof of these testimonies, the crematoriums continue to work beyond their capacity.
To make matters worse, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns that three million people need urgent assistance and protection services in various parts of the country. One million reside in areas affected by conflicts prior to the coup, while the remaining two million are families located in urban areas of Yangon and Mandalay, as well as people who have been forced to displace since February 1. Many experts fear that the uncontrolled spread of the virus will lead to new variants of Covid-19 in the country, which borders China, India and Thailand. Precisely in the Chinese province of Yunnan, on the border with Myanmar, new infections are being registered in people who left Burmese territory between June 30 and July 24.