Myanmar Loses Over 100 Leading Figures from COVID-19, Junta’s Poor Health Care

By The Irrawaddy 17 August 2021

Since July more than 100 prominent figures in Myanmar have died from COVID-19 and from the wider collapse of the public health system following the February coup.

The list has included prominent politicians, artists, technocrats, journalists, architects and physicians.

Previous coronavirus outbreaks in Myanmar since March 2020 happened under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government and caused fewer casualties.

During last month around 6,000 deaths were reported by the junta-controlled health ministry, although other estimates have been far higher. In early August, the total COVID-19 death toll exceeded 10,000 since March last year, according to the regime.

Many of the prominent figures, most of whom were relatively old, have died in July and August after the current wave was reported in late May.

The deceased have included U Nyan Win, an NLD legal adviser. The 79-year-old NLD central executive committee member was detained during the Feb. 1 coup and held in Insein Prison where he caught coronavirus.

The retired rector of Yangon University of Economics U Maw Than, who served as the union auditor-general under the NLD, died a few days after testing positive for COVID-19. The 82-year-old was removed from his post on Feb. 1.

Among the dead is a pioneer of Myanmar’s modern poetry, Aung Cheimt, and modernist sculptor Sonny Nyein, an important figure in the development of modernism in Myanmar. He died of COVID-19 aged 72. He also took the famous photo of detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi making her first public speech in August 1988 outside Yangon General Hospital.

U Bo Gyi, who designed the mausoleum of Daw Khin Kyi, the wife of independence hero General Aung San and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother, has also died.

Other deaths include surgeon U Thein Hlaing, known as Naga Thein Hlaing for his work with remote Naga communities in Sagaing Region, and U Nay Min, 75, a lawyer who in 1988 told the world through the BBC about the democracy movement and the military regime’s atrocities.

Poet U Ant Maung, a strong opponent of the China-backed Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Region who won a national literary award for his translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, has also died.

Naga Thein Hlaing, poet Aung Cheimt, U Bo Gyi and U Ant Maung did not test positive for COVID-19 but died while there was very limited access to health care amid the post-coup turmoil.

The NLD’s Bago Township chairman, U Nyunt Shwe, died of COVID-19 while in detention.

NLD vice-chair Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, who has blood cancer, also contracted coronavirus in Mandalay’s Obo Prison where he has been held by the regime since the coup. The ousted Mandalay Region chief minister has been in intensive care and on oxygen support.

In normal times, the deceased would have been buried with honors but due to COVID-19 and military rule, there were only summary funerals. COVID-19 infections and fatalities have declined slightly recently as Myanmar’s people have helped each other and take preventative measures, but the threat remains.

The health care system has collapsed since the coup in February with the regime detaining and issuing arrest warrants for many staff who refused to work under military rule. Many patients were turned away by understaffed hospitals and ill-equipped COVID-19 centers while the regime restricted supplies of oxygen, a crucial lifeline for serious coronavirus cases, to individuals and failed to address the shortage of medicines.

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