Myanmar Report: Coup cripples economy and new COVID-19 wave could potentially kill it
As Myanmar grapples with the immediate consequences of the military coup, the dangers of the COVID-19 epidemic have been largely been forgotten. Now, however, COVID-19’s third wave is hitting neighbouring nations hard.
After the second wave, Myanmar saw over 3,200 deaths, among over 140,000 cases. The third world Southeast Asian nation was slowly recovering, as 3.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived. On April 17th, Chairman of the State Administration Council, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said, during his Myanmar New Year Day speech, that 28 million more doses are due to arrive.
The vaccines used in Myanmar are “Covishield”, produced by the Serum Institute of India, after it acquired copyright clearance for the vaccine, jointly developed between Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
While other nations are able to put anti-COVID-19 measures in place, similar to China’s, Myanmar’s recent turn of events makes this extremely difficult.
The Feb 1st coup met with immediate opposition, the most prominent being the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), which saw doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, from both the private and public sectors, participate.
It led to public hospitals having to temporarily shut down. Although some have reopened from, they are not nearly enough to support Myanmar’s already weak healthcare infrastructure, let alone during an epidemic.
After the 2nd wave of COVID-19, which was closely followed by the coup, many COVID-19 test and treatment centers were closed.
April 21 – While flash protests in Yangon, aimed at getting the message of opposition across to the upcoming special ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Blue Shirt movement, the latest addition to Myanmar’s coup opposition, held protests in many states across the country, together with other anti-coup and anti-military dictatorship movements.
A doctor in Mandalay, who has been participating in the CDM, said that they will not be part of any public undertaking, COVID-19 related or otherwise, for as long as the junta rules the country. “My professional ethics, as a doctor, definitely drive me to take part in the fight against the pandemic and I have given my time and risked my health under the real government” he said.
He also says that many of his peers and superiors are being both threatened and tempted to return to work by the military government. Some are considering returning to work, but most will remain part of the CDM, he says.
The Natural Disaster Management Law, an extant law that was used to punish any COVID-19 regulation breakers, has also been used to sue both President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. The latter has also been charged under other laws, including for alleged corruption relating to the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a named after her mother. The foundation has also been actively involved in the fight against COVID-19 by accepting donations, as well as by carrying out charity work for those severely affected by the pandemic.
Many business owners are also skeptical that the military can get the situation under control, in enough time to prepare measures against COVID-19.
“I highly doubt this thing will be over quickly. We have a parallel government and ethnic armed forces which are fighting back against the military. The economy is hanging on by a thread, because of the coup which happened right after the second wave of COVID-19. We are already seeing price hikes, especially in pharmaceuticals, because Myanmar hardly produces any medicine on our own. Now that COVID-19 is breaking out in neighboring countries like India, the price of masks has already jumped by around 25%. While face masks won’t increase that much, the price of medicines and other consumer goods will certainly increase,” said a trader from Bayintnaung Wholesale Distribution center in Yangon.
He added that trade across the Chinese border is almost at a standstill. He said he just lost a whole container truck of melons because the fruit all went bad after being stuck on the way to Muse gate for more than 15 days.
“Another COVID-19 breakout is going to kill many businesses here,” said the Yangon trader.
As sanctions and international investors pull out or are in the process of doing so, traders like him also share the misgiving that Myanmar’s economy is in danger of imminent collapse.
by David Tun