With coronavirus deaths rising in Myanmar, allegations are growing from residents and human rights activists that the military government, which seized control in February, is using the pandemic to consolidate power and crush opposition.
In the last week, the per capita death rate in Myanmar surpassed those of Indonesia and Malaysia to become the worst in Southeast Asia. The country’s crippled health care system has rapidly become overwhelmed with new patients sick with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Supplies of medical oxygen are running low, and the government has restricted its private sale in many places, saying it is trying to prevent hoarding. But that has led to widespread allegations that the stocks are being directed to government supporters and military-run hospitals.
At the same time, medical workers have been targeted after spearheading a civil disobedience movement that urged professionals and civil servants not to cooperate with the government, known as the State Administrative Council.
“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,” said Yanghee Lee, the United Nation’s former Myanmar human rights expert and a founding member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.
“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,” she said. “The military is weaponizing Covid.”
Myanmar’s Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun did not resp