Nearly 1,800 people were confirmed positive with COVID-19 in a 24-hour period over the weekend in Myanmar, capping off a record week of infections that some observers say is another reflection of the country’s disarray since the military seized power a year ago.
The junta’s Ministry of Health said that a total of 1,787 patients tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus from Feb. 11-12, more than 900 of whom are in the commercial capital Yangon alone. The number represented a six-fold increase from the number of infections in the period from Feb. 1-2.
More than 8,000 people were confirmed positive with COVID-19 from Feb. 6-12, a new record for the nation, as military rulers struggle to provide citizens with adequate healthcare to battle the spread of the pandemic since taking over from the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup.
A doctor in Yangon, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that the variant spreading through the country has yet to be confirmed due to a lack of testing resources in the aftermath of the military takeover. In the year since the coup, Myanmar’s economy has suffered from mismanagement, while many of the country’s healthcare workers have left their jobs to join a nationwide anti-junta civil disobedience movement.
“There are no more ‘fever clinics’ in any townships, while the ‘fever sections’ in hospitals are no longer operational, so people rely on general practitioner clinics and private hospitals when they get sick,” he said.
“The testing mechanism is not fully functional, so it’s hard to confirm whether the outbreak is Omicron or Delta. They can only test whether it is COVID or not. We are seeing a surging new wave in February.”
A woman from Yangon who recently tested positive said several clinics in the city have closed due to the high infection rate.
“All of the homes on our street and in our neighborhood have sick people now. … The clinics are too crowded to receive new patients. They close by 2 p.m. The few clinics open in evening are filled with 20-30 patients,” she said.
“Some are using traditional remedies or take the medicine they have at home. They also resort to the free medical advice of doctors on the internet and take the medicines they recommend. … There is nothing else they can do.”
The woman, who declined to be named, said she became infected despite receiving two vaccinations.
Other sources told RFA that while the numbers of infections are concerning, the latest outbreak appears less severe than those earlier in the pandemic.
Min Dinh, a volunteer from Myita Thinga Ha Free Funeral Service Group, said he hadn’t received any requests for funeral services for patients who died of COVID, unlike last year.
“In 2021, we had to send everyone who was in contact with positive patients for quarantine, but now, nurses are taking mouth swabs from patients at private clinics. If they test positive, they asked to remain separate from the rest of their family members and take medicine,” he said.
“I think only the people who are getting tested are those traveling internationally and those healthcare workers who have had contact with confirmed cases. Nobody who tests positive voluntarily goes to [inform the] authorities and humanitarian groups anymore.”
Humanitarian groups in Yangon told RFA they are prepared to help contain the outbreak if requested.
Emergency response measures
Than Naing Soe, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health, told RFA that authorities are working on prevention and emergency response measures.
“We are releasing data on immunizations. We have prepared since December. We have disseminated the information through the media,” he said.
“We have formed emergency response teams to handle any surge in cases. We have released information about our preparations.”
While the Health Ministry has launched a campaign to educate the public in Yangon about COVID-19 and how to avoid infection, residents of the city told RFA that not enough is being done to control the outbreak.
According to the ministry, more than 19 million people in Myanmar — or more than one-third of the population of roughly 54 million — had received two COVID-19 vaccinations as of Feb. 12.
Junta officials say a total of 548,357 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 19,311 people have died of the disease since the beginning of the pandemic.
Volunteer care providers say the actual numbers are likely much higher.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.