Myanmar’s cases surge, oxygen dwindles

Numerous people were seen waiting outside oxygen plants for cylinders failing to find a bed at hospitals which are deplorable following bitter and violent political struggle.

The Myanmar junta had deposed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February by a coup which came less than a week after the first jabs for health workers.

Under Suu Kyi, there were exigency measures beginning in last August like severe travel restrictions, sealing off Yangon and curbing election campaigns where lockdowns were reimposed.

Vaccine supplies were secured from India and China.

Military hospitals continued operating but were shunned by many, while doctors and nurses who boycotted the state system ran makeshift clinics, for which they faced arrest.

The pace of vaccinations slowed to a crawl, threatening an explosion in infections.

“No wise person with a good heart and a sincere desire for truth would want to work under the junta’s rule,” said Zeyar Tun, founder of the civic action group Clean Yangon who helped out at quarantine centers.

Early last week, the meagre oxygen supply forced people to buy oxygen in the city of Kalay in the northwestern Sagaing region, showing a health sector was on its knees.

“From Myanmar, our U.N. colleagues on the ground say they’re concerned about the rapid increase in the number of recorded Covid-19 cases,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.

“The U.N. team warns that a major outbreak of COVID-19 would have devastating consequences on both people’s health and on the economy. They stress the importance of resuming the delivery of essential health services, implementing measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and to scale up vaccinations.”

By the end of the week, residents of Myanmar’s two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, were also having trouble finding oxygen supplies.

Myanmar’s new leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in a Friday meeting on Covid-19 response ordered oxygen plants to work at full capacity.

Investment and Foreign Trade Minister Aung Naing Oo followed up on Saturday with an announcement that the government is dropping all duties and licensing requirements for the import of oxygen concentrators – devices that generate oxygen.

The Health Ministry on Saturday reported a record 4,377 new confirmed cases for a total of 188,752, as well as a record 71 deaths, bringing the toll to 3,756.

The number of tested people found to be infected is hovering around 25 per cent, and equally alarming is how quickly the numbers have been rising.

The data on vaccinations is not very clear, but it appears that as of last month, only 3.5 million doses had been administered to the country’s 55 million people, meaning a maximum of 3.2 per cent of the population would be fully vaccinated with two doses.

Even those numbers are likely an undercount.

According to aid group Relief International, Myanmar’s major challenges are a lack of adequate screening, testing capacity and availability of vaccines.

The Health Ministry announced Thursday night that all schools would be closed for two weeks.

Stay-at-home orders had already been issued for badly hit neighborhoods in several cities, including Yangon, and basic field hospitals set up.

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