Six dead, thousands infected in Myanmar due to new COVID-19 outbreak

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At least six people have died and 2,457 have been infected in Myanmar since the beginning of the month during an outbreak of a new ommicron variant of COVID-19, the junta’s health ministry announced on Thursday.

The ministry released the figures for the two weeks ending September 14, noting that 384 infections and one death had been recorded on Wednesday alone.

Charity groups told RFA Burmese the ministry’s announcement was based only on the number of patients being treated in junta-run hospitals, suggesting the true number of infections is much higher.

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A doctor who runs a private clinic in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, said most patients who come for treatment show signs of COVID-19 even if they are not included in the junta’s official infection count.

“There are fewer and fewer people wearing face masks these days. Many shops have reopened and more people are going to bars and cafes,” he said on condition of anonymity.

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“In addition, many people needing cooking oil stand in long lines at charity centers with no regard for social distancing rules, so COVID is making a comeback.”

The doctor told RFA that because the genetics of the disease have changed with the new variant, symptoms such as loss of smell and low oxygen levels have become less apparent.

“But the number of infections is increasing,” he said. “When we do tests on patients, we find it in almost all of them.”

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He predicted that the number of infections in the country will only increase if measures are not taken to prevent transmission.

Yangon residents line up to buy palm oil for cooking, Aug 26, 2022. Credit: RFA

Other priorities

A Yangon resident, who also declined to be named, said the junta’s mismanagement of the economy has left people more concerned about getting enough food than the risks associated with the disease.

“People are not very careful with COVID right now. They are working hard to provide for their daily livelihoods, so COVID is experiencing a resurgence,” he said.

“Most people don’t even know they have the virus. They only find out they have it after being tested. Low-income workers don’t care about COVID as their priority is finding enough food.”

The Yangon resident called the situation “critical” and suggested that, with the cost of drugs rising due to inflation, the outbreak’s toll is likely to get worse.

Myanmar was hit by a third wave of the coronavirus shortly after the military seized power in a coup in February last year that forced the country’s workers – including health workers – to go on strike as part of a nationwide civil disobedience movement. The shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as a lack of medicines and equipment, allowed the disease to spread largely uncontrollably.

This time, Khin Maung Tint, the chairman of a social aid organization in Mandalay, said organizations like his were prepared, with medicines and equipment in case of another outbreak.

“Our biggest challenge is the increase in gasoline prices,” he said. “People also have financial problems, which is why we currently offer free care in most cases.”

However, he warned that without the authorities’ help to contain the outbreak, “we could run out of supplies, and that would be difficult for us.”

Prevent transmission

On Thursday, the junta’s Information Ministry announced to the media that massive infections had been registered in several schools and workplaces. It said authorities are “working with relevant departments to enforce COVID prevention.”

About 80% of infections since the beginning of the year have occurred in patients who had not been vaccinated, the ministry said.

Attempts by RFA to contact the junta’s health ministry spokesman Than Naing Soe for details about efforts to control the spread of the disease went unanswered Thursday.

A CDM doctor, who asked for identification by the name of Olivia, urged the public to follow simple practices such as wearing masks, washing hands and adhering to social distancing guidelines, which she said are a would make a major contribution to fighting the outbreak in Burma.

“Prices are rising rapidly — from staple foods to essential medicines,” she said.

“If your health is compromised, medical costs will put a huge burden on your shoulders. So be more careful now than ever – even twice as much as the last outbreak.”

According to the Ministry of Health, 617,739 people have been infected with COVID-19 to date and 19,444 have died since the pandemic first spread across Myanmar in 2020. More than 36 million of the country’s 54.4 million people have been vaccinated against the disease.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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