More than 3,000 people in Myanmar have died after contracting COVID-19 as infections from the third wave of the pandemic increased the strife-torn country’s total confirmed caseload to nearly 150,000, the military government announced this week.
Myanmar detected its first positive COVID-19 case on March 23, 2020. The country, which shares a long land border with China, initially had a low number of confirmed infections and single-digit deaths until mid-August 2020, when the number of COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket during a second wave that was deadlier then the first.
To contain the spread, Myanmar officials put in place stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and mandatory quarantines for those traveling to other states and regions within the country as well as for those returning to Myanmar from abroad.
After the military ousted the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1, many of these containment policies were abandoned as the junta focused on containing the protests that erupted across the country of 54 million.
But now, cities are resuming stay-at-home arrangements and authorities are reactivating COVID-19 checkpoints.
The junta’s ministry of health said in a statement Wednesday that in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday, it confirmed 630 new cases among 5,090 people screened.
Authorities imposed a lockdown on the city of Falam in western Chin state on the border with India due to a particularly high rate of infection.
“It’s like nine out of 12 people tested were found to be positive,” a volunteer in the city told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Due to the high rate of infection the number of infected people could actually be much higher if we had more testing. That’s why they are locking everything down,” said the volunteer, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Currently, 74 people in the city have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 13 have died at the Falam Civil Hospital, hospital officials told RFA.
In nearby Tiddim, which was the first town in Myanmar where COVID-19 was detected, 348 people have tested positive and five have died, according to local sources. The border town of Tunzang, meanwhile, has 478 confirmed cases and 13 deaths as of Wednesday.
In the northwestern Sagaing region town of Kalay, the scene of heavy fighting between the junta and local militias in April and May, about 80 people died of COVID-19 related complications, an aid worker there told RFA.
“The COVID outbreak is getting worse and worse each day. It’s like it’s happening all over the whole township over the past two weeks. As far as I know, there are infections in Kalay and the surrounding villages,” the aid worker said.
“There are also cases in villages a little farther away. We have more than 200 testing centers now, and some people are undergoing treatment at home. The work of the health sector was not satisfactory at all,” said the aid worker.
Kalay’s COVID center houses more than 200 infected people, but aid workers told RFA that the hospital is staffed by only two nurses and two volunteers.
The Ministry of Health and Sports has imposed stay-at-home-orders in Tiddim, Tunzang, Falam, Hakha and Htantlang in Chin State and Kalay and Tamu in Sagaing Region.
In nearby Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, the cities of Sittwe and Maungdaw have confirmed cases in the double digits.
“We have found 79 positive cases already. Most of these people were doing trade across the border,” Soe Win Paing, the assistant director of Rakhine State Public Health Department, told RFA.
“As for the local infections, one person was found positive in Sittwe and another in Maungdaw yesterday. Those who returned from Bangladesh are kept in quarantine. Most of the time, the positive cases were from this group. We also take swabs of people we suspect to be infected,” said Soe Win Paing, adding that the people should take the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Sports seriously.
In the country’s second largest city Mandalay, rising numbers of infections have forced members of the Parahita Min Gaung Charity Group to return to hospitals and intensive care units, the group’s chairman Khin Maung Tint told RFA.
“Right now, everyone who is having doubts is coming in for tests. We administered tests at Kandaw Nadi Hospital. Those who we confirmed as positive were sent to nearby government hospitals,” he said.
“Those patients whose oxygen levels are very low are being kept in the General Hospital as directed by the Regional Health authorities. The situation is just like the time we had the second wave,” he said.
The chairman acknowledged that many of the city’s doctors are not working because they have joined in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in opposition of the military government, but he said he was unsure if the hospitals or COVID centers were adequately staffed.
In southeastern coastal Mon state, seven people tested positive at the Aung Mingalar Railway Police Compound on June 22, according to Ba Min of the Aung Mingalar Youth Charity.
“They are rail workers. One of their senior officials had a loss of smell and took a test in Moulmein. Consequently 14 people, including a police officer on duty at the Aung Mingalar Railway Police Station, were given tests and 7 were found positive,” Ba Min said.
“They are now at Mawlamyaing People’s Hospital. At the moment, things are not going well. We have to work really hard as most doctors are gone,” said Ba Min, adding that their family members are now no longer allowed to travel.
The Health Department announced that testing sites will reopen in in the Ayeyawaddy, Yangon and Bago regions and in Rakhine state.
In townships with stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions will be extended for 11 days. People can take tests with their own money if in doubt, the department said.
The junta reported June 15 that three variants of the virus had been detected among the positive cases so far.
As of Thursday, Myanmar has confirmed a total of 149,927 cases with 3,269 deaths according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.