07/30/2021, 10.26
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Yangon: army accused of exploiting Covid to consolidate power

This is according to human rights activists, who report an alarming health situation. The military denies cemeteries inundated with corpses, but has announced the construction of facilities that could cremate up to 3,000 people a day. Doctors supporting the democracy movement were arrested. China has sent the first vaccines.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Criticism is growing against the military junta, accused of exploiting the pandemic to consolidate its power and crush the opposition. Human rights activists say they have spoken to residents who express concern about an alarming health situation:

"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,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The problem is the junta cares more about holding on to power than stopping the pandemic.”

Last week, the per capita death rate surpassed those of Indonesia and Malaysia, the countries now hardest hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia. Yesterday there were 5,234 new cases and 342 deaths, but some say the numbers are lower than they actually are because of a lack of testing and reporting. Even so, the weekly average of deaths per million inhabitants rose to 6.29, more than double India's 3.04 at the peak of the crisis in May.

Videos proliferate on social media showing people dying in their homes and long queues to get the last supplies of oxygen. The military denies that Yangon's cemeteries have been overwhelmed by the amount of corpses, but has announced the construction of new facilities that could cremate up to 3,000 bodies a day.

Supplies of medical oxygen are running out, and Tatmadaw has restricted its private sale. The population accuse the military of allocating the last supplies to hospitals run by the junta.

"With the oxygen, they have banned sales to civilians or people who are not supported by the State Administrative Council, so they’re using something that can save the people against the people” said Yanghee Lee, the UN's former Myanmar human rights expert and a founding member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

Since the removal of the country's former civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, public hospitals have been closed because medical staff have begun to refuse to work under the new government, instead running makeshift clinics for which they risk arrest. The military carried out at least 260 attacks on medical staff and facilities, killing 18 people and arresting at least 67 health workers. Another 600 are wanted.

China has recently started delivering vaccines. This month it has sent 736,000 doses to Yangon and more than 10,000 to the Kachin Independence Army, one of the armed resistance groups running the northern border, where the virus has crossed into Chinese territory in recent weeks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment on the news, saying that "the epidemic is a common enemy of all humanity".


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