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Myanmar: Covid-19 surges unchecked, overwhelming shattered healthcare system

In response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in Myanmar, where cases and deaths are soaring since mid-June and patients are struggling to access oxygen against a backdrop of escalating conflict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said: 

“The spread of Covid-19 in Myanmar compounds the existing humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country. It’s a stark example of the Myanmar military’s ruinous mismanagement and its enormous human toll.”

“By relentlessly pursuing medical workers, threatening them and arresting them, the military authorities have driven the country’s already fragile healthcare system into the ground during a global pandemic. It’s unconscionable, and it was preventable.”  
“Community volunteer groups are engaged in the morbid task of corpse removal, and crematoriums are inundated. The military’s response has been to stage photo ops and release statements saying they have this under control when it is manifestly clear that they do not. To make matters worse, the available data shows that less than 3% of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.”  

 “This is a crisis for all in the country, but we hold particular concerns for at-risk populations including prisoners. The country’s prison system now houses thousands of opponents of the military and, even under ordinary circumstances, detention in these facilities is detrimental to the right to health, as the denial of medical treatment and access to life-saving medications is commonplace.” 

“For the more than half a million nationwide who’ve fled conflict or remain interned in camps, it is critical that the authorities allow sustained and unfettered humanitarian access. Neighbouring states should allow cross-border aid to provide for the minority and displaced populations inside Ethnic Armed Organization-administered and contested territories.”  
“Unless there is swift, decisive and unified action taken by the international community, the situation in Myanmar can and will get much, much worse. Armed conflict worsens by the day, hundreds of thousands have fled fighting, shelling and airstrikes, millions have been tipped into poverty and unemployment, and food shortages are on the near-horizon. This is a perfect storm.”
 

Background 

People all over Myanmar have been affected by the surge in cases of Covid-19. Amnesty International has received reports of people trying to source oxygen for their loved ones at extortionate prices, with money they simply don’t have. Moreover, media reports detail how security officials have hoarded desperately needed oxygen. 

Amnesty International is also concerned at reports of Covid-19 cases among internally displaced populations, including in Kachin and Rakhine States.

On 1 February 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power from the elected civilian government by staging a coup. The move triggered pro-democracy protests nationwide, which in turn saw the nation’s newly emboldened security forces launch an ongoing and deadly crackdown on demonstrators.

 According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB), as of 13 July, the military has killed over 900 people and arrested more than 6,600 people since the coup. More than 5,200 people remain in detention. 

The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly have also been drastically curtailed, including via shutdowns of media outlets, the internet and social media.