The Myanmar Junta Is 'Weaponizing COVID-19'

Myanmar -

The Myanmar Junta Is 'Weaponizing COVID-19'

The junta is using the COVID19 pandemic to crush pro-democracy voices and dissent. The per capita death rate in Myanmar has surpassed those of Indonesia and Malaysia to become the worst in Southeast Asia.

According to Tom Andrews, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, the junta has carried out at least 260 attacks on medical personnel and facilities, and killed at least 18 health care professionals. At least 67 health care professionals had been abducted by the junta and another 600 are being hunted. Myanmar's health care system was destroyed by the junta's mass arrests, crackdowns, and incompetence. It is now overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The junta has targeted medical workers and created a health care crisis amid a pandemic. It’s believed that only about 3% of the population have received two COVID-19 shots.

According to Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s former Myanmar human rights expert and a founding member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, “They have stopped distributing personal protection equipment and masks, and they will not let civilians who they suspect are supporting the democracy movement be treated in hospitals, and they’re arresting doctors who support the civil disobedience movement ... With the oxygen, they have banned sales to civilians or people who are not supported by the SAC, so they’re using something that can save the people against the people, ... The military is weaponizing COVID.”

A doctor from Mawlamyine General Hospital told reporters, “There is a big difference between the actual death toll from COVID-19 of the Military Council and reality, ... There are a lot of people in the community who have died of the disease and cannot be counted.” Myanmar's average of deaths per 1 million people has risen to 6.29 which is more than double the rate of 3.04 in India at the peak of its COVID-10 crisis. In Myanmar, the figures are believed to be undercounted due to a lack of testing and reporting.

The junta's renegade leader Min Aung Hlaing claims he is seeking COVID-19 assistance from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and unspecified "friendly countries," who likely include Russia and China. China recently sent 736,000 vaccine doses to Myanmar, the first of 2 million it will donate. It also reportedly sent more than 10,000 vaccine doses to the Kachin Independence Army which is currently at war with the junta.

According to human rights defenders and doctors, the junta is trying to use vaccines and other aid to its advantage by positioning itself as the solution to the pandemic. Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told reporters, “By letting COVID-19 run out of control, the military junta is failing the Burmese people as well as the wider region and world, which can be threatened by new variants fueled by unchecked spread of the disease in places like Myanmar, ... The problem is the junta cares more about holding on to power than stopping the pandemic.”

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