While Myanmar has been experiencing massive political and economic turmoil since the February coup, a deadly third wave of COVID-19 has hit the country, bringing with it all four known coronavirus variants. Thousands of people are dying as a direct consequence of the military regime’s incompetent and negligent handling of the pandemic, and Myanmar is not close to controlling the latest outbreak of the disease.
The Irrawaddy interviewed Dr. Tin Tin Htar Myint, an epidemiologist working for Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation, about the pandemic.
The following are excerpts from her interview published on the Burmese website.
All four coronavirus variants have been found in Myanmar. What are the consequences of that?
COVID-19 cases are rising significantly in Myanmar. So are cases in neighboring countries such as India, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Looking at Myanmar, there were no cases in April. Perhaps there were no infections or there were no tests. But even with no tests, we would have known if there were infections. Cases started to rise at the end of June and beginning of July. Cases are still continuing to rise and won’t peak until around the end of August. Then, they may decline gradually. People have to be careful until mid-September.
Some countries are already facing the fourth wave of COVID-19. Do you think the third wave will overlap with the fourth wave in Myanmar?
More waves will come and we don’t know how long they will last. Bangladesh has suffered two waves continuously, the first was not serious, but the second is massive. India has suffered a massive outbreak and cases are drastically declining now.
The problem with the pandemic is that we can’t predict when the new waves will come or which variant will suddenly become deadly. There are many variants and we can only wait and see which one will cause problems. I can’t tell you if the third wave will overlap with the fourth wave. But the third wave will continue for some time.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are dying daily in Yangon. Will the crisis get worse?
Cases will continue to increase. But deaths may or may not increase even the infections increase. It depends on treatment. Hospitals are already full and there are oxygen shortages. What’s worse is that it is difficult to buy medicines, even paracetamol. So we have to expect the worst.
What should people do as they can’t get proper treatment?
Health experts have called for flattening the curve [which means slowing the spread of the epidemic so that the number of people requiring care at any one time is reduced and healthcare systems can cope] since the very first outbreaks. If cases rise rapidly, hospitals will become overstretched and there won’t be enough medicines and oxygen.
It would be easier to handle the crisis by flattening the curve. The period of the outbreak may be longer, but the number of patients will be steady and doctors will be able to provide proper treatment and there will be enough medicines. So deaths can be reduced.
What people can do is avoid contracting the virus. Elderly persons, people with underlying conditions such as obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes are particularly at risk now. There has been a lot of discussion on Facebook and television about how to avoid contracting the virus by social distancing and wearing masks. People should follow that advice.
When will this pandemic be over?
It was initially thought that there would be herd immunity when 70 or 80 percent of the population is vaccinated. But it appears that is not correct. In France, at least 50 percent of the population has been vaccinated. It’s the same in Germany and Israel. But cases are still surfacing.
So it is very difficult to predict when it will end. Normally, a pandemic wave lasts for three to four months. From the examples of other countries, we hope cases will decline in Myanmar after three or four months. But there is no definite answer for that.
What else would you like to tell the people of Myanmar?
Myanmar is having bad luck now. The military has seized power and the country is suffering with the third wave. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. The pandemic will not last forever. It will recede over time. Stay strong.
If there are vaccines, take them, take the full doses. Wear masks. Keep a safe distance from people. Eat well, sleep well. Consult with a doctor when you don’t feel good, rather than self-medicating. And keep calm.
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