Saturday, December 4

Battle for Oxygen as Myanmar’s Coup Faces Its Most Severe Covid Outbreak | Myanmar

Khin Nwe Soe * went by taxi, from factory to factory through Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, desperately searching for oxygen tanks for her 21-year-old son. A home test had shown that he had Covid-19. He was in pain, could only lie down, and his oxygen levels had dropped by as much as 90%.

“He tried very hard, queuing everywhere he could find, because his son needed him,” said Aye Myat Noe *, his daughter, who lives abroad but had called oxygen providers to help her mother. “She also has many health problems, such as diabetes and heart problems. She is very scared herself … She was seriously risking her life to find oxygen. “

Some plants had promised him supplies over the phone, but turned down his mother when she arrived in person. Others said they could not allow more people to join their ranks. Up to 80 people anxiously waited in line.

Queues have formed at oxygen plants across Yangon over the past week as Covid-19 has rapidly spread across the country. Residents run the risk of being arrested by queuing after dark, a violation of curfew rules in some areas. Social media is awash with pleas for help. Some are edited, to say that it is too late.

“My oxygen levels have dropped to 55 (% concentration). I need more oxygen again. Some elderly people in my house need it too… we can come and pick us up. Please help us, ”wrote one student on Facebook. The same request was repeated 11 times, until he passed away on Sunday.

The outbreak, the most severe in the country so far, could not have occurred at a worse time. The military coup in February has caused Myanmar’s hospitals to collapse and has thrown its vaccination and testing campaigns into chaos. On Tuesday, the military-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports confirmed 4,047 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 201,274 infections. In total, 5,014 deaths have been officially recorded. The lack of evidence means that this is likely an underestimate. Almost 90% of the country’s municipalities have reported cases, according to the Irrawaddy news site.

Joy Singhal, head of the Myanmar delegation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the demand for oxygen and health services was increasing as cases increased across the country. “With more infectious variants of the virus now in circulation, we fear that the increase in the number of cases could be the tip of a coronavirus iceberg,” he said. “There is limited access to overburdened hospitals and healthcare in much of the country.”

‘There was no one to test’

Aye Myat Noe’s family had tried to receive treatment at a hospital, but were unable to obtain an official test or referral. They were told to first go to a state clinic for a test. “There were none in our municipality. There was no one to test those who felt sick in these clinics, “he said.

Isolation centers, with bamboo mats lined inside the tents, have been set up for those with mild symptoms. People face a difficult decision: to stay in a facility supervised by the military, which has killed 902 people since taking power and accused of widespread human rights abuses, or staying home and at risk of infecting family members. Since the coup, many public sector workers who have protested the junta have been evicted from government housing and now live in even more crowded conditions.

Khin Nwe Soe’s family, unable to be admitted, used closets to divide their apartment from the lobby. He slept near the entrance, where the ventilation is best.

Eventually, he was able to purchase an oxygen tank for 400,000 kyats ($ 243), the only option available and a sum inaccessible to many. As he was taking him to his apartment, downstairs neighbors learned that he had managed to find an oxygen tank, now the most sought after item in Yangon. His mother had also tested positive, they said, and was in critical condition.

“Her children came running to our door and beat her. They knelt on the ground and begged my mom to please save her mother, ”said Aye Myat Noe. “They begged my mom to give away the tank she found. The tank that risked his own life to take home. “

The head of the board, Min Aung Hlaing, said on television that it was true that the country was “a little low on oxygen”, but blamed people for buying tanks out of panic. He accused “people with malicious intentions towards the politics of our country” of spreading false rumors that the army was cutting off the oxygen supply to the people.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun previously said that restrictions had been put in place on privately owned oxygen plants, to prioritize the supply of hospitals over people.

On Monday, security forces opened fire to disperse a line of people queuing to buy oxygen in Yangon, according to local media reports.

The vast majority of patients, including those with serious illnesses, stay home. They treat themselves or depend on the care of local doctors who operate in secret.

Many government health workers protested the military’s takeover by refusing to work in state hospitals, and now work undercover because they are being persecuted by the security forces. At least 157 doctors they have been detained since the coup, while hundreds more are wanted. Health facilities have been repeatedly raided, ambulances fired upon and doctors attacked by junta forces.

Government doctors who visit patients face not only the threat of arrest and violence by the military, but also the risk of becoming infected. Under the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar was one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to implement vaccines. This has stopped, in part because there is deep mistrust in the military. Less than 4% of the population has received a dose of vaccine.

Sandra Mon, a senior researcher in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Public Health and Human Rights in Baltimore, said the outbreak was not only a crisis for Myanmar, but also a major global health security problem. “A mosaic vaccine delivery mechanism is crucial at this point,” he said, adding that healthcare workers and the elderly should be prioritized for jabs. Such a program could offer mixed doses from alternative vaccine manufacturers, given the seriousness of the situation, he said. “This is not just speculation. We’re seeing a huge increase in cases, and it’s only increasing day by day. “

Aye Myat Noe’s family donated their oxygen supply to their neighbor’s mother. He lived an hour and a half more using the tank. His own brother is still sick, lying on his stomach to facilitate his breathing. He is often in a daze, he said. His father, who was also infected, can move, but he still coughs and sweats a lot. Her mother, Khin Nwe Soe, fainted from the ordeal. “All the stress of living with two Covid patients has multiplied on her,” said Aye Myat Noe.

“My parents have lived an extremely difficult life,” he said, adding that they had been able to live a little more comfortably since he started working abroad. “I really, really fear that they will die before they can enjoy life a bit.”

* Names have been changed to protect your identity.

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