Myanmar junta ‘weaponising’ Covid-19 against civilians, opposition says

Six months after coup, coronavirus surge adds to chaos engulfing country

Myanmar’s military is attacking healthcare workers and “weaponising” Covid-19 against civilians as it tightens its grip on power six months after the February 1 coup, an opposition figure said on Thursday.

Susanna Hla Hla Soe, a minister in Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said the military, known as the Tatmadaw, was “purposefully targeting healthcare workers”, with more than 250 attacks on medics so far this year.

Half a year after the military seized power in a coup, Myanmar is facing a devastating surge of coronavirus infections. The 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday are widely seen as an undercount and the military has called for international assistance.

“With a new wave of Covid-19 spreading like wildfire across the country, it is unfortunate that more lives will be lost as the military weaponises Covid-19 against the people,” the NUG minister told informal UN Security Council talks.

“It's crucial to recognise that Tatmadaw has led us to this political instability and public health emergency.”

The NUG, which was set up as a shadow government by opponents of army rule, said that 400,000 lives could be lost if swift action was not taken to slow infections.

Across the country, people have been making frantic efforts to find oxygen. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people had died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after an oxygen system failed.

Also addressing the virtual meeting, Gum San Nsang, a representative of the marginalised Kachin ethnic group of northern Myanmar, said hospitals and crematoria were overloaded by the Covid-19 surge.

“This coup has caused irreparable harm to the already embattled Covid economy in Burma. It is teetering on a meltdown," he said.

“If the current level of Covid mismanagement is unabated, Burma could potentially turn into a petri dish for the next strain of deadly Covid virus.”

Britain's UN ambassador Barbara Woodward said that half of Myanmar's 54 million people could be infected with Covid-19 in the next two weeks.

"The coup has resulted in a near-total collapse of the healthcare system, and healthcare workers are being attacked and arrested," said Ms Woodward.

Myanmar's military ruler, Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, has called for help from the international community to contain the outbreak in the South-East Asian nation, state media reported on Wednesday.

He called for more vaccines, with only about 3 per cent of the population vaccinated so far.

The junta this week announced plans to vaccinate thousands of inmates in the country’s densely packed prisons, which have seen big virus outbreaks in recent days. Some 600 detainees have received shots so far, officials announced on Thursday.

Politician Nyan Win, an adviser to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died in hospital this month after becoming infected with Covid-19 during his detention in Insein jail, where thousands of political prisoners have been held since the coup.

With the death toll rising, military authorities plan to build 10 new crematoria in Yangon, which will be able to cremate more than 3,000 bodies per day, state media reported this week.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Ms Suu Kyi on February 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.

The US, Britain and other nations have slapped sanctions on Myanmar's military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

Updated: July 29th 2021, 7:56 PM