Myanmar Junta Failing to Control COVID-19 Outbreaks in Rakhine State

By The Irrawaddy 15 July 2021

The Myanmar military-controlled authorities in Maungdaw in Rakhine State are not doing enough to control the COVID-19 outbreak in the town on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, according to local civil society organizations (CSOs).

319 coronavirus cases have been recorded in Maungdaw since the third wave of COVID-19 hit Myanmar in late May. Five people have died and 140 are still receiving treatment, said the CSOs helping the patients.

“The outbreak has become a cause for concern. But the local authorities are barely cooperating with us. We have suggested building temporary quarantine centers as cases are rising, but they didn’t come and help. And they ignore our calls to halt the border trade,” Ko Chit Htoo Khaing, the chairman of a local charity network, told The Irrawaddy.

Meanwhile, infected families ordered to isolate at home are struggling to buy food, said Maungdaw resident Ko Lat Tun.

“Infected people and their families are placed under home quarantine. They are not allowed to go outside. And there are no volunteer groups to help them like there were before [during the first and second waves of COVID-19]. Some people don’t bother to go to hospital when they get sick. They just take medicine by themselves at home,” he said.

The CSOs believe that the virus is spreading from cargo vessel crew employed in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border trade, as well as from long-distance truck drivers and government employees transferred from other parts of the country.

Maungdaw Hospital is in need of oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients in serious condition, said Dr. Nu Cathy San, the hospital medical superintendent.

Among those infected are teachers, students, border guard force personnel, doctors and health workers, as well as local residents. CSOs have helped build two temporary COVID-19 care centers in Maungdaw to take care of the rising number of COVID-19 patients.

In Sittwe, the Rakhine State capital, 91 patients were receiving treatment for coronavirus at Sittwe Hospital as of Tuesday.

U Zaw Zaw Tun, the secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, said that the real number of COVID-19 cases in Rakhine State is likely higher than the figures released by the military regime.

“Some people don’t go to hospital and treat themselves at home. And government departments are not paying attention to COVID-19. We have long called for the closure of the border trade camps. But the authorities have ignored us,” he said.

Ever since the first cases were reported among cargo vessel crew in Rakhine State, local CSOs have urged the authorities to close the border trade camps in Sittwe and Maungdaw which trade with Bangladesh. However, the military authorities have refused to halt the frontier commerce.

Junta officials have now said that the border trade camps will be closed from July 15 to July 31. But local CSOs said it was already too late.

COVID-19 infections have also been reported in Kyaukphyu. A police officer and an official from the Road Construction Department died on July 11 and 12, according to local authorities.

Over 1,000 people in Rakhine State have caught coronavirus since the third wave broke out and 18 have died.

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