The number of COVID-19 fatalities in the third wave of coronavirus has exceeded the combined total of COVID-19 deaths in the first two waves of the pandemic, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS).
A total of 3,216 people died in the first and second waves between March last year and late May this year.
Since then, there have been 3,921 fatalities in the less than two months from June 1 to July 25, as Myanmar struggles to contain the virus under military rule. The MOHS figures are widely-believed to be an underestimate as they exclude people who died of COVID-19 at home.
Over 100 people a day have died of coronavirus since July 13, according to the MOHS.
In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, charities that help transport dead bodies to cemeteries have reported seeing between 1,500 and 2,000 bodies daily.
“We have to carry two to three bodies at one time now. We are overwhelmed,” said one Yangon charity worker.
The rising death toll is a direct consequence of the collapse of the healthcare system under the military regime. As COVID-19 infections spread in Yangon, patients were turned away by public hospitals and COVID-19 centers and forced to treat themselves at home, said charities and relatives of the patients.
Private oxygen plants have also been ordered by the junta not to refill oxygen cylinders for individuals, making it difficult for patients to obtain oxygen support at home.
Most of the coronavirus deaths in Yangon were due to hypoxia, where oxygen fails to reach body tissues, a common symptom in serious COVID-19 cases, said charities.
“All the deaths were due to the lack of oxygen. Patients received neither treatment [at hospitals] nor medical oxygen. Hospitals do not accept patients even if they have a transfer letter from the township health department,” said a charity worker.
The military regime has detained or issued arrest warrants for the thousands of healthcare workers who are on strike and refusing to work under military rule.
As a result, many hospitals that were able to cope with the influx of patients amid the country’s first and second waves of the virus before the junta’s Feb. 1 coup are now understaffed and unable to treat people.
Volunteers who played an important part in fighting the pandemic in the first and second waves are also refusing to cooperate in the regime’s anti-coronavirus efforts. Nor is the regime receiving the substantial donations made by wealthy people under the ousted civilian government to help the fight against COVID-19.
COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in all Myanmar’s regions and states, with the highest number of fatalities reported in Yangon. Coronavirus deaths are also rising in Mandalay, Ayeyarwady and Bago regions and Mon State.
Four coronavirus strains—Alpha, Beta, Delta and Kappa—have been detected in the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Myanmar has recorded 269,525 COVID-19 cases with 7,111 deaths as of Sunday, according to the MOHS.
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