Myanmar Junta Announces Nationwide Lockdown Next Week as COVID-19 Surges

By The Irrawaddy 15 July 2021

The Myanmar regime will impose a nationwide lockdown next week, while also expanding the number of public holidays during the week from two to five, in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in infections and deaths in the country. It announced on Wednesday that July 17 to 25 will all be official public holidays.

On Wednesday, the Southeast Asian country reported 145 fatalities—the highest daily death toll since the military coup in February—and 4,320 new COVID-19 cases, after testing 21,352 swab samples, according to the junta-controlled Health Ministry.

In an order signed by its secretary, the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council (SAC), said it had “designated the two weekdays—20 and 22 July—as public holidays in order to effectively conduct the COVID-19 prevention, control and treatment activities.”

In a separate order, it also declared Qurbani Eid Day on July 21 (Wednesday) as a public holiday. Martyrs’ Day on July 19 (Monday) and Waso Full Moon Day on July 23 (Friday) were already official public holidays.

The Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19, which is now led by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, also said people must abide by the rules set by the committee, “to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 during these public holidays.”

People are urged to “reside at home or [in] dormitories” and will be prohibited from traveling “at all except for duty and funeral services”. Only shops selling basic essentials, medicine and medical supplies will be permitted to open, and people must wear masks and protective gear whenever they go outside.

The regime’s order also warns that “actions will be taken against those who fail to adhere to” the rules.

Myanmar is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections that began in late May. Since then, cases have been reported in 296 out of 330 townships, or 90 percent of all townships nationwide. The military regime has imposed stay-at-home orders in 74 townships, including in Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing regions and Chin and Shan states.

Myanmar has reported a total of 208,357 COVID-19 cases with 4,181 deaths nationwide since the virus first hit in March last year.

Nearly 79,000 COVID cases and 965 deaths were reported between Feb. 1 and July 14 by the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports, but it is assumed the actual figures are far higher, as crematoriums in Yangon, a commercial hub, and elsewhere are overflowing.

One of Yangon’s main roads during the stay-at-home period under the ousted civilian National League for Democracy government in 2020. / The Irrawaddy

Reports of people dying from lack of oxygen have increased day by day this month.

Daw Than Than Soe, chairwoman of the Yangon-based charity group “Rights to Live”, said the group has been required to transport more than double the usual number of bodies to Yeway and Kyisu cemeteries this week.

“More deaths are imminent. We have not been able to help everyone who asked for help from us; they asked for medical oxygen for patients but we don’t have enough resources,” she said.

People wait for oxygen cylinders to be refilled in Yangon on July 14, 2021. / The Irrawaddy

“In some cases, hospitals were full and we had to take the patients back. They died soon after that.”

The regime’s Health Ministry said in mid-June that three “highly transmissible and more severe” coronavirus variants—including the Delta variant, which originated in India—had been detected in Myanmar.

Also on Wednesday, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said, “An explosion of COVID cases, including the Delta variant, the collapse of Myanmar’s healthcare system, and the deep mistrust of the people of Myanmar of anything connected to the military junta, are a perfect storm of factors that could cause a significant loss of life in Myanmar without emergency assistance by the international community.”

He urged the international community “to facilitate a non-junta, non-political body to coordinate a COVID response initiative that includes a vaccination program that the people of Myanmar will trust.”

Junta-controlled media announced on the same day that Myanmar will inoculate citizens with 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China starting at the end of this month and will continue vaccinating the population. It said the junta would buy 4 million of the doses and China would donate the other 2 million.

Myanmar’s ousted civilian National League for Democracy government began administering COVID-19 vaccine jabs in late January using vaccines donated by India, beginning with healthcare workers.

Since the coup in February, many healthcare professionals have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), refusing to work for the regime. Many people have also refused to get inoculated.

The regime has nonetheless continued COVID vaccinations using 3.5 million doses donated by China, and both donated by and purchased from India. Health and education staff, as well as the junta’s cabinet, are first in line to receive vaccinations. However, COVID-19 infections have been reported among those who received vaccines last month.

The UN special rapporteur added that “the junta must also account for the [US]$350 million in COVID aid the International Monetary Fund provided the people of Myanmar just days prior to the coup d’état.”

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