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Myanmar put at full stretch by virus surge

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-23 07:42
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People wait to fill empty oxygen canisters at a location donating oxygen at no cost in Yangon, amid a surge in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases on July 14, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Community workers help fill in the gaps amid shortages of vital supplies

Shortages of medical supplies and equipment in Myanmar have kept workers with a community group busy doing what they can to help people amid soaring COVID-19 infections.

Zaw Win Khaing, the head of We Love Yangon, said the nongovernmental organization has been working especially hard in recent weeks.

"We are sharing our oxygen supply and other medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators, with the patients," said Zaw Win Khaing, the founder and general secretary of the group based in the country's biggest city. He said the shortages of medical resources are making it more difficult for the authorities to cope with the current phase of the outbreak.

Myanmar reported 6,093 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the national tally to 246,663, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing information from Myanmar's health ministry. The death toll that day increased by 247 to 5,814.

Zaw Win Khaing said the actual number of infections and deaths could be higher than those indicated by the official figures.

"A lot of people had no chance to go to the hospital, so that's why they had no record of them. They died in their homes," said the community worker, noting the actual fatalities in Yangon alone could be as high as 1,500 a day.

The authorities have imposed stay-at-home orders on 86 townships, after 12 townships were added on Tuesday to the list of places subject to restrictions.

Zaw Win Khaing said variants of the coronavirus, including the more infectious Delta strain, have made handling the country's current wave of infections more challenging.

The positive cases reported on Wednesday accounted for 36.7 percent of the total samples tested, said a doctor who attended a news conference on Thursday hosted by a group called ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. He added that the infections had tripled from the peak in the second wave. The doctor said the fatality rate had risen from 1.48 percent in October to 4 percent.

Sharp rise

"A sharp rise in the number of cases in such a short time means the healthcare system has little time to catch up to the necessary care levels for those having the disease," said the doctor.

Myanmar's Health Ministry has set a target of vaccinating half of the population this year, according to Reuters, citing a report by state media outlet Global New Light on Tuesday. Around 1.6 million of Myanmar's 54 million people have been inoculated.

China donated 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar in May. On July 17, 3,000 tons of liquid oxygen, bought by a Myanmar public welfare organization from China, were transported to the city of Mandalay through a border crossing, according to information from the Chinese embassy in Myanmar.

"Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar is getting worse, and the demand for liquid oxygen and other materials is urgent," the Chinese embassy said in a post on Facebook.

The Chinese embassy held an online meeting on Thursday to bring together medical experts in China and Myanmar to share their experience in controlling the outbreak, according to China Central Television.

James Gomez, regional director at the Asia Centre think tank in Bangkok, said the biggest impact he sees from the latest outbreak in Myanmar will be on the economy.

Htwe Htwe Thein, an associate professor in international business at Curtin University in Australia, said many sectors have been badly affected by the crisis, especially labor-intensive manufacturing, which has seen a loss of migrant workers as they return to villages.

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