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Media Release – Tuesday, September 21, 2021 

Myanmar’s COVID-19 crisis 

Fears half population infected as military ‘weaponises’ virus
Crisis a threat to Australia and the region

 

A third wave of COVID-19 is rampant in Myanmar and its health system is near collapse as the military junta targets frontline health workers as part of its crackdown on dissent.

The situation is so critical it is threatening the health and stability of the region and will have serious health and travel consequences for Australia, according to Results International Australia, a global health agency with partners working in Myanmar.

CEO, Negaya Chorley said there are fears that up to half of Myanmar’s 54 million people could be infected with COVID-19. 

“While most countries have hailed their frontline health workers as heroes, in Myanmar health workers were being jailed, tortured and even killed,” she said.

Since the February coup that ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government there has been a wave of protests and a popular Civil Disobedience Movement.  Medical workers were among the first group to go on strike as part of the movement and now find themselves targets of repression.

“Aid groups have been unable to get permits to bring in lifesaving COVID supplies, and critical programs have been suspended. It is a tragedy that will have profound implications for the region in terms of the spread of COVID-19,” Ms Chorley said.

“There are large numbers of displaced people on the Myanmar/Thai border and medical and vaccination programs are non-existent.”

Although there is limited official testing being done in the strife-torn nation, anecdotal reports suggest the pandemic is bringing an already struggling health system to its knees.

According to human rights groups (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners) at least 72 health workers – including the head of the vaccination program, are detained with another 600 arrest warrants out for doctors and nurses. There are harrowing accounts of medical staff being beaten, tortured, and even shot. 

“Given Australia is fighting its own battle with COVID-19, you may be forgiven for thinking we need to keep our own resources at home. But Myanmar’s deepening crisis is not about a lack of vaccines, oxygen or PPE, it is a failure of international diplomacy to put pressure on an illegitimate military that is not only killing its own people, it is jeopardising the region’s health security,” Ms Chorley said.

She said the collapse of the health system also represents a tragic setback to the country’s modest progress in fighting other diseases such as TB, HIV, and malaria and in the areas of child and maternal health. Save the Children estimate one million children have not received essential vaccines since the coup.

Ms Chorley said given Australia’s strong historical ties with the country and our fundamental belief in human rights, we should be leading the way in exerting diplomatic pressure.

This includes placing sanctions on individuals and companies associated with the junta just like those enforced by the US, UK, Canada and the European Union, directing Australian aid to help those displaced on the Myanmar Thai border and increasing efforts to implement a border-wide COVID-19 vaccination program.

Negaya Chorley is available for interview

Media contact:  Nicole Clements 0408 869 833