Yangon’s Major Cemeteries Report Unprecedented Influx of Bodies Amid COVID Surge

By The Irrawaddy 17 July 2021

Cemeteries in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon are overflowing with bodies as the country is gripped by a new wave of coronavirus amid the post-coup political upheaval that has crippled the country’s public health system. 

Lack of access to medical oxygen is blamed for most of the fatalities, as patients are not getting oxygen support in time after the virus disrupts the oxygen flow to their bodily tissues, charity groups said. 

Four major cemeteries in Yangon have seen one of the busiest weeks in their history, cremating over 700 bodies on Thursday alone, and hundreds of bodies on previous days. Since then, about 1,000 people have reportedly died in Yangon alone and the cemeteries can no longer handle the volume of bodies arriving each day.  

“We can’t even count the patients who have died of COVID-19 due to lack of oxygen. We are so busy that we have to keep wearing personal protective equipment [PPE] throughout the day,” said a charity worker from Hlaing Tharyar. 

As charity groups providing free funeral services are overwhelmed, those providing ambulance services have to help with transporting the dead to cemeteries in Yangon. But even finding enough ambulances has become difficult, the charity workers said. 

“In Yayway Cemetery, I saw many bodies being put on the floor [awaiting cremation]. The situation was the same at Kyesu Cemetery. People even have to queue for cremation permits,” said a charity worker from East Dagon.

After the major cemeteries found themselves overstretched, the military regime issued a request asking people to send bodies to the cemeteries nearest their homes. 

Cemetery officials confirmed the higher than usual numbers but refused to disclose the exact number of cremations and burials held each day.

“Bodies have to be sent to different cemeteries depending on where the victims live. The number of dead bodies has increased slightly compared to the past,” said a Yayway cemetery official. 

Yangon has been hit hardest by the third wave of the pandemic, with more than 10,000 cases being reported in the city, according to figures released by the regime. Actual figures could be much higher, however, as many people are treating themselves at home simply because they cannot get a bed at any of the city’s understaffed and ill-equipped hospitals or COVID-19 centers run by the regime, in addition to the fact that people lack trust in anything connected to the junta. 

The regime said the daily death toll was between 100 and 200 nationwide since July 13, but charity workers report seeing hundreds of bodies at Yayway Cemetery alone. A charity group in Yangon said it was handling around 60 bodies per day this week.

Nearly 90 percent of the country has been affected by Myanmar’s third wave of coronavirus infections, with 296 of 330 townships nationwide reporting COVID-19 cases since May, and three deadly variants—Alpha, Delta and Kappa—detected in the country. 

According to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports, over 78,000 cases were reported with 1,405 deaths between Feb. 1 and July 16, with the majority of deaths being recorded since mid-June.

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