Suffocated by COVID-19 and military rule, residents in Yangon are hanging yellow or white clothes and flags outside their homes to show they are infected and need help.
Yellow signifies that the occupants need medical supplies and white asks for food.
The method originated in Malaysia where people fly white objects outside their homes as a plea for help amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
As the pandemic worsens across Yangon, charities initiated the “From the people to the people” campaign this month.
The military regime imposed a nationwide lockdown on July 17 until at least next week. A reported 5,362 people have died of COVID-19 nationwide between July 1 and July 29, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports.
Infected people, especially when whole families are isolated at home, also ask for help on social media and the posts are shared so neighbors can help.
Ma Sein Sein of Hline Township was in despair after all the five members of her family, including her parents and two children, were sick with COVID-19. Her parents’ oxygen levels were dropping. She hanged a piece of yellow cloth outside her apartment on July 26, hoping someone would help.
She also asked for help on Facebook. A man later delivered an oxygen cylinder.
“My parents are fine for now as someone has given a 10-liter oxygen cylinder. We have also received food. It is good for now,” she said.
Charity workers, who are helping COVID-19 patients believe many residents need medicines and food after whole families were infected.
“When people ask for help, in most cases the whole family is sick or infected. I was asked to help a hostel where all the occupants were sick with COVID-19. They can’t go out,” said a charity worker.
While some households can pay for food and medicines, others depend on donations, said a young volunteer who helps patients from his savings and donations from others. He said more residents are now flying yellow and white.
People are enduring appalling hardships amid the crises resulting from the military coup in February and COVID-19, said a young activist from Yangon.
“Foreign companies have left Myanmar because of the military and people have lost their jobs. They are already cash-strapped and can’t afford to buy medicines when struck by COVID-19,” he said.
While Myanmar lacks a solid social security system with a long-existing gap between rich and poor, the coup has hammered social resources, said a public administration specialist.
“The whole social system has collapsed. There is now a shortage of cash. Only when this problem is solved will businesses be able to operate,” he said.
Myanmar has been facing a cash crisis since the regime imposed restrictions on withdrawals after its coup, perhaps fearing a depreciation of the kyat. Businesses are suffering as a result.
“Food handouts are only a short-term solution. Without a proper healthcare system, people will continue to die if they are to treat at home,” he added. Strategic and strong leadership plus close cooperation with the international community is needed to overcome the crisis, he said.
On the ground, the junta-controlled Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is barely doing anything to ease the suffering of people, many of whom now endure COVID-19, fighting and floods.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management of the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow government formed by elected lawmakers from the 2020 general election to rival the military regime, said it is providing humanitarian assistance. But it does not disclose details for the safety of those implementing the work on the ground.
“The people’s government is working for the people as we help each other. We have to join hands to overcome suffering,” said the NUG humanitarian affairs and disaster management minister, Dr. Win Myat Aye.
It appears no assistance program covering the whole country can be expected soon, forcing people to help each other. And yellow and white objects will continue to fly outside the homes of those in need.
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