Yangon, Myanmar’s business hub, has been hit hard by the third wave of COVID-19 infections. In July, 6,000 people died, making it the deadliest month since the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in Myanmar in late March last year. Amid the surge in cases, volunteers from charity services in the city have endured unprecedented conditions. They are being called round the clock by COVID-19 patients’ desperate family members seeking to get their sick relatives to a hospital, find emergency supplies of medical oxygen for them, or to transport their bodies to cemeteries for cremations or burial services. On some days, crematoriums are jammed with bodies, mostly of people who died of COVID-19. Sometimes, the volunteers even keep night vigils for elderly patients who live alone.
“They called us for urgently needed oxygen. After we dispatched the tanks, the old couple begged us not to leave them as they had no one else in case of an emergency. So we had to sleep right in front of the house,” a volunteer recalled.
Given their constant physical proximity with COVID-19 patients, volunteers admit they have to disinfect their hazmats and reuse them due to a shortage of personal protective equipment. They no longer return to their homes, but stay in lodgings at their office lest they spread the virus to their family members.
As the infection and death rates have abated somewhat for the moment, volunteers in Yangon are less busy than during the peak period, but still have to respond to people reaching out to them. They offer a hand helping to refill oxygen tanks at plants and getting them delivered to homes on request. They also transport people to COVID centers and of course bodies to cemeteries. But the number is relatively low now.
As of Wednesday, Myanmar had reported a total of 309,032 COVID-19 cases and 14,737 deaths.