Fri, September 24, 2021

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Urgent vaccine strategy needed to stop Myanmar from becoming regional Covid epicentre


Neighbouring countries and international organisations are calling on Myanmar to start vaccinating at-risk groups to halt the spread of Covid-19 variants, which could make the country into a global pandemic epicentre.

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Dr Zin Mar Aung, who serves as foreign minister for the country’s alternative government, quoted health experts as saying that the “worst is yet to come” for Myanmar.

Dr Emma Leslie, executive director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies based in Phnom Penh, called for a “pragmatic and coordinated approach” as Myanmar is being hit by close to 1,000 deaths from the virus daily and 37 per cent of the 15,000 tests conducted daily are coming out positive.

“I can only underline the gravity of the situation and the need for urgent practical action should impress the Asean meeting and dialogues partners this week. It can no longer be business as usual because the situation percolating in Myanmar is like a tsunami coming to overtake the Asean region,” said Kobsak Chutikul, a former Thai ambassador.

Kobsak, Leslie and Zin Mar Aung were speaking via a zoom briefing on Monday organised by the Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 national media outlets in 20 Asian countries.

The event coincided with the first day of the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting, in which regional ministers spent five hours

wrangling in vain over the appointment of a special envoy to lead humanitarian aid to Myanmar.

At the briefing on Myanmar’s Covid-19 situation, Zin Mar Aung said: “We don’t want international organisations to pick sides but can engage both [the military-led] State Administration Council [SAC] and the NUG [National Unity Government].”

Meanwhile, Leslie cited China’s health strategy for Myanmar, where it is supplying vaccines to SAC as well as a million jabs directly to Kachin State.

“We know the Yunnan province is determined to try and stem Covid infections from going across the borders and all Yunnan governors and government administrators have been told that fighting Covid is their only priority in the next six months.

“We have to think of Myanmar as a patchwork quilt, with each patch being handled differently. There is not going to be one simple unified panacea for this. For instance, borders are not controlled by the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s army]. We have to be pragmatic from outside looking in, … we have to go in from many angles and different relationship,” Leslie added.

She also urged Thailand to seriously consider administering vaccines to people in the buffer zone along the Thai-Myanmar borders. “[This is] not to treat the crisis in isolation. We know how much Thai people are suffering … but we need to contain it quickly so doesn’t become a massive regional crisis.

“But to do that is a complicated relationship which needs to be put in place. We look to Thai leadership for that. [Thailand] has the capacity and ability to mobilise vaccines. [It] has to be handled delicately and sensitively, making sure that Thai people are given the opportunity to be vaccinated,” she added.

Leslie saw the Thai Red Cross as part of the solution as they have the capacity to mobilise vaccines to the borders, where ethnic minorities like the Karen live.

“Asean should also be the coordinator for Myanmar’s border areas with Bangladesh and India,” she suggested.

Zin Mar Aung said that while Myanmar’s public health mechanism had responded reasonably well in the first and second Covid-19 waves, it has now collapsed totally with incoming variants.

The crisis is compounded by ongoing clashes between the military-led government and anti-coup protesters including some 700 doctors and nurses who have joined the Civil Disobedient Movement.

The NUG, set up as an alternative government and now outlawed by the junta, has established a central committee for prevention, treatment and control of Covid-19. It has reached out to international organisations for assistance and is supporting some 5 million people, she said.

“Due to the coup, Myanmar’s response to the Covid situation is quite difficult and different from other countries. Some of the people trying to get medical care have been arrested and doctors have been arrested as well. They used to operate clinics, but they are there no more. The military goes after them, arrests and confiscates medical equipment,” she said.

Kobsak said Myanmar borders both India and China – which is half of the world’s population. “Not to mentioned Bangladesh. The possibility of Myanmar becoming a global epicentre of the pandemic is very real and a danger for everyone across all borders.

“In this sense of urgency… the political process must be overlooked. Now all overtaken by events, we are behind the curve now, we have to act immediately, assistance has to go in. And everybody should see they have a vested interest in this.

“If not the tsunami will come and will sweep over and drown everybody else in the region,” he added.

Published : August 03, 2021

By : Asia News Network