The supply of medical oxygen is running out and the government has restricted its private sale in many places, saying it is trying to prevent hoarding. But this has led to numerous allegations that the stocks are being directed to government supporters and military hospitals.
At the same time, medical workers were targeted after leading a civil disobedience movement that urged professionals and officials not to cooperate with the government, known as the State Administrative Council.
“They have stopped distributing personal protective equipment and masks, and they will not allow civilians they suspect to support the democracy movement to be treated in hospitals, and they are arresting medics who support the civil disobedience movement Yanghee Lee said of the UN. former Myanmar human rights expert and founding member of the Special Advisory Board for Myanmar.
“With oxygen, they’ve banned sales to civilians or to people who aren’t supported by the SAC, so they’re using something that can save people from people,” she said. “The military is arming COVID. “
Myanmar’s Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun did not respond to questions about the allegations, but with growing internal and external pressure to bring the pandemic under control, leaders have launched a public relations offensive.
In the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar this week, several articles highlighted the government’s efforts, including what it called a push to resume vaccinations and increase oxygen supplies.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of government, was quoted as saying that efforts were also being made to seek support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and unspecified “friendly countries”.
“Efforts must be made to ensure better health for the state and the population,” he said.
Myanmar reported 342 more deaths on Thursday and 5,234 new infections. Its 7-day moving average of deaths per 1 million people rose to 6.29, more than double the rate of 3.04 in India at the height of its crisis in May. The figures in Myanmar are considered a drastic underestimate due to lack of testing and reporting.
“There is a big difference between the Military Council’s actual COVID-19 death toll and the reality,” a doctor at Mawlamyine General Hospital in Myanmar’s fourth largest city told The Associated Press, s ‘expressing on condition of anonymity for fear of the government. reprisals. “There are a lot of people in the community who have died from the disease and cannot be counted. “
Videos are proliferating on social media showing apparent victims of the virus dead in their homes from lack of treatment and long lines of people waiting for oxygen supplies to be still available. The government denies reports that Yangon’s cemeteries have been overwhelmed, but said on Tuesday they are building new facilities that can cremate up to 3,000 bodies a day.
“By letting COVID-19 run out of control, the military junta is failing the Burmese people as well as the region and the world at large, which may be threatened by new variants fueled by the uncontrolled spread of the disease in places like Myanmar, ”said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The problem is, the junta is more concerned with retaining power than stopping the pandemic. “
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the region and was already in a vulnerable position when the army took power, sparking a violent political struggle.
Under former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar weathered a wave of coronavirus last year by severely restricting travel and sealing off Yangon. Vaccines were obtained from India and China, but Suu Kyi’s government was overthrown within a week of the first vaccines.
As civil disobedience increased after Suu Kyi’s impeachment, public hospitals were virtually closed as doctors and other staff refused to work under the new administration, instead running makeshift clinics for which they risked being. arrested if caught.
Some returned to public hospitals, but doctor Mawlamyine interviewed by AP said it was too dangerous.
“I could be arrested by the junta at any time if I returned to the hospital,” added the doctor, who was part of the disobedience movement and was treating patients with supplies he had collected.
Military hospitals continued to function after Suu Kyi’s ouster, but were avoided by many and the vaccination program slowed at a breakneck pace before collapsing completely until this week. There are no solid figures on vaccinations, but it is believed that around 3% of the population could have received two injections.
The rapid increase in illnesses linked to COVID -19 is “of great concern, especially with the limited availability of health services and oxygen supply,” said Joy Singhal, head of the Red Cross delegation to the United Nations. Myanmar.
“There is an urgent need for more testing, contact tracing and COVID-19 vaccinations to help curb the pandemic,” he told AP. “This latest wave is a blow to millions of people in Myanmar already facing worsening economic and social hardships. “
Earlier this week, Andrews urged the UN Security Council and member states to push for a “COVID ceasefire.”
“The United Nations cannot afford to be complacent as the junta ruthlessly attacks medical personnel as COVID-19 spreads unchecked,” he said. “They must act to end this violence so that doctors and nurses can provide life-saving care and international organizations can help provide vaccines and associated medical care. “
After a long lull in humanitarian aid, China recently started delivering vaccines. It sent 736,000 doses to Yangon this month, the first of 2 million that were donated, and more than 10,000 to Kachin’s Independence Army, which led a decades-long insurgency in an area northern border where the virus has spread to China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment directly on the KIA delivery report earlier this week, noting instead “the epidemic is a common enemy to all mankind.” .
The Global New Light reported that Myanmar had received an additional 1 million doses purchased from China.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported to be widespread in Myanmar prisons. On Wednesday, state-run MRTV television showed what it said was 610 prisoners from Insein Prison in Yangon being vaccinated. The report was met with skepticism and derision on social media.
Lee said if the government is trying to use vaccines and other aids to its advantage by positioning itself as the solution to the pandemic, it is too late.
“People know now and it has been too long,” she said. “COVID was not man-made, but it has grown out of proportion due to complicity and the deliberate blocking of services – there is no turning back. “