As neighboring countries experience an increase in coronavirus cases, Myanmar health officials are concerned that a third wave of COVID-19 could strike the Southeast Asian country under a military junta that took power three months ago.
More than 300,000 people are infected daily in India to the northwest, and thousands are dying, while Thailand to the southeast is already experiencing a third wave.
Dr. Khin Khin Gyi, a Ministry of Health and Sports spokeswoman, warned on April 27 that a third COVID-19 outbreak was likely in Myanmar, which has been racked by nationwide protests against the military regime and subsequent violent crackdowns since February 1.
“There is a chance of a third wave of the pandemic,” she said. “It is possible that there will be outbreaks among the large crowds.”
“More than 60% of infected patients do not exhibit symptoms,” she said. “We only found out about the infections after they were tested.”
Before the country’s overthrow, Khin Khin Gyi spoke out on COVID-19 and prevention measures as part of the civilian-led government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Ministry of Health and Sports reported 16 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections to 142,858, with 3,209 deaths.
Since the military takeover, the vast majority of the country’s doctors and nurses have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a group of striking workers who oppose the junta and have largely boycotted its vaccination campaign.
Myanmar received 3.5 million vaccines from India around the end of January as part of the former National League for Democracy government’s vaccine drive.
Though the junta has urged residents to get vaccinated, its security forces have arrested many health care workers for taking part in the CDM, reducing the number of professionals who can administer the vaccines.
People will not accept vaccines provided by the regime, according to a doctor in Yangon who requested anonymity for security reasons, because vials that have sat in storage for too long may have lost their effectiveness.
“The remaining vaccines are ineffective due to the storage delay,” he explained. “They will not be accepted by the people.”
Another reason, a young man from northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region who did not want to be identified, said he would not receive a virus vaccine under the military regime.
“I will not accept vaccines provided by the terrorist regime because they are murdering hundreds of people, and I do not trust them,” he said, referring to the nearly 770 people killed by security forces in the weeks following the coup.
On March 23, 2020, Myanmar detected its first positive COVID-19 case. The country, which shares a long land border with China, initially had a low number of confirmed infections and single-digit deaths until mid-August, when the number of COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket during a second, deadlier wave.
To stem the spread, Myanmar officials imposed stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and mandatory quarantines on those traveling to other states and regions within the country, as well as those returning from abroad.
In response, Khin Khin Gyi stated that the storage and maintenance process for the vaccine’s more than one million doses had not been jeopardized.
“There is no such thing as us stopping our work because some people are absent,” she explained. “The hospitals are still open for business. Plans are in place to keep medical facilities operational all the way down to the township level in the current situation. ”
According to health officials, at least 1.9 million of Myanmar’s 54 million people have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the ruling junta, the number of people being tested for the virus has dropped to around 2,000 per day, down from nearly 150,000 per day under the NLD government.
According to an assistant doctor at Mandalay General Hospital who is participating in the CDM, this is due in part to a shortage of health care workers.
“There is no medical staff to take the swabs, no lab staff to analyze the samples, and no doctors to test the results,” he explained. “Even if someone tests positive, there is no one in the hospital who can treat them. We are all taking part in the CDM. “