Myanmar, which has been under a military coup since February this year, is grappling with a massive increase in cases and deaths due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) since mid-May. According to the health ministry, Myanmar has reported 188,752 cases and 3,756 deaths till now. On Saturday, the country saw another record high of 4,377 new cases, while 71 people succumbed to the virus. However, health experts have said the actual count is much higher than the official figures due to a significant drop in testing.
A shortage of oxygen supplies to treat critical patients of the viral disease coupled with an increased spread of the Delta variant and lack of vaccine doses has added to the rebellion-hit nation’s poor response towards combating the pandemic.
Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s two big cities are finding it difficult to procure oxygen supplies on time. Speaking to news agency Associated Press, Soe Win, a resident of Yangon, said he had to wait in line for hours to secure oxygen for his grandmother, suffering from Covid-19. “I have been waiting since 5 in the morning until 12 noon but I’m still in line. Oxygen is scarcer than money,” Win added.
Last week, photos emerged of people waiting in queues to buy the life-saving gas in the Kalay city, located in the north-western Sagaing region.
To deal with the crisis, Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Friday ordered oxygen plants to operate at full capacity along with conversion of industrial oxygen for treating infected patients. Investment and foreign trade minister Aung Naing Oo, meanwhile, said on Saturday the government is dropping all duties and licensing requirements for importing oxygen concentrators.
Before February’s military coup, Myanmar, under the leadership of Suu Kyi, had weathered its second surge of the pandemic beginning August 2020 by severely restricting travel, sealing off Yangon city and curbing poll campaigning in Covid-19 hotspots where lockdowns were in place, according to AP.
Suu Kyi had often appeared on television and advised the public on how to deal with the overall Covid-19 situation.
However, she was ousted in February, leading to widespread protests which were mostly violent. Medical workers, who are at the forefront of combating the pandemic, spearheaded a popular civil disobedience movement that called on professionals and civil servants to not cooperate with the junta, AP reported.
Military hospitals, which continued to provide treatment, were shunned by a majority of the population. Doctors and nurses, who boycotted the Junta system, started running makeshift clinics, following which they were arrested.
“Under Suu Kyi, the government and volunteers worked together to control the disease, but it is difficult to predict what the future holds under military rule,” Zeyar Tun, founder of the civic action group Clean Yangon, told AP.
Meanwhile, all schools in Myanmar have been closed for two weeks and stay-at-home orders have been issued for badly hit neighbourhoods in cities. The government is in talks with Russia and China to secure vaccine doses on an urgent basis.
(With AP inputs)