COUP-VID: Myanmar caught between pandemic and takeover

A highway express driver found dead on a bus at Aung Min Galar bus station, Yangon Saturday morning. He later tested positive for COVID-19. (Twitter via Hnin Yadana Zaw)
A highway express driver found dead on a bus at Aung Min Galar bus station, Yangon Saturday morning. He later tested positive for COVID-19. (Twitter via Hnin Yadana Zaw)

Myanmar recorded 1,225 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports. The recent spike in cases have raised fears of a third-wave of the outbreak, which threatens to overwhelm Myanmar’s gutted healthcare system since the military seized power on Feb. 1 from the democratically elected civilian government.

Myanmar’s crippled healthcare system is ill-equipped to deal with a new surge of COVID-19 cases after thousands of healthcare workers refused to work under the new military regime. Both Myanmar’s COVID-19 testing and the nationwide vaccination roll-out collapsed due to massive walk-outs by striking healthcare staff.

The true number of COVID-19 cases is believed to be higher than what the current testing capacity suggests. Myanmar social media posts about random deaths later attributed to COVID-19 are more eerie signs that a third-wave is currently sweeping across the country.

Security forces have also regularly targeted frontline healthcare workers and medics, while raiding and occupying hospitals. According to Physicians for Human Rights, there were over 109 attacks and threats against healthcare workers between Feb. 11 and April 12, including arrests, injuries, killings, hospital raids, and occupations.

On June 10, Dr. Htar Htar Lin, the former head of Myanmar’s COVID-19 immunisation programme, was arrested along with her husband, seven-year-old son, and their dog. She was charged with high treason for working with Myanmar’s newly formed National Unity Government (NUG).

“Dr. Htar Htar Lin’s arbitrary arrest is yet another sign that the military junta will stop at nothing in its war against Myanmar’s health workers – even the professionals leading the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is not safe,” said Jennifer Leigh, an epidemiologist serving as PHR Myanmar Researcher, in a statement on June 12.

In a public statement through her lawyers, deposed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi told the public “to be more careful” about COVID-19 and that she was worried about the country’s rising cases.

The State Administrative Council’s public health response has been met with dismay and ridicule online as images of quarantine centers with bamboo mats for beds surfaced online, a visible sign of the military government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: HEALTH, POLITICS

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