Myanmar floods, coup, complicate growing Covid-19 outbreak

Volunteers carry a Covid-19 patient lying on a hospital bed during a flood in Myawaddy, Myanmar, on July 26, 2021.
Volunteers carry a Covid-19 patient lying on a hospital bed during a flood in Myawaddy, Myanmar, on July 26, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS) - Flooding in Myanmar has displaced hundreds of people, slowing efforts to battle a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak amid the chaos that followed the South-east Asian nation's military coup, residents told Reuters on Tuesday (July 27).

Heavy weekend downpours across southern states caused flooding in several towns, forcing healthcare workers to move Covid-19 patients to dry areas across drenched streets and alleys.

"Hundreds of houses are submerged in water and only their roofs can be seen," Pyae Sone, a social worker in the Kayin State town of Hlaingbwe told Reuters by telephone, adding that the water had begun rising early on Monday.

"Covid-19 is spreading in the town. There are so many people who have lost their sense of smell and many who are sick, it's not clear if it's Covid-19 or seasonal flu. But now people can't stay at home or gather in shelters, so the spread could be serious."

Groups of volunteers and medical workers trundled bedridden patients, still hooked up to oxygen tanks, over murky flood waters in the Kayin town of Myawaddy, Facebook photographs posted by the Karen Information Center (KIC) media group showed.

About 500 residential areas along the Thai border were affected, displacing hundreds of people, the group said.

Bo Bo Win, the head of a charity in the town of Mawlamyine, 120 km away, said at least another 500 people there had also suffered in the annual floods.

"This year's flood is not as bad as the one we experienced in 2019, but we are in the middle of a pandemic," Bo Bo Win added.

“These floods swamping large areas of eastern Myanmar are the worst in some places for many years and they are causing further misery for people already suffering as Covid-19 surges across the country,” said Joy Singhal, Head of Myanmar Delegation, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

He said the IFRC was urgently securing more relief supplies to support thousands of people at risk from further floods.

Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,630 cases and 396 deaths reported on Monday. Medics and funeral services put the toll far higher, in an outbreak also linked to scores of new cases in China's border province of Yunnan.

Angered by doctors' support for anti-junta protests, Myanmar's military has also arrested several doctors treating Covid-19 patients independently.

“The UN must act immediately to halt the military junta’s attacks, harassment, and detentions in the midst of a Covid-19 crisis,” Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement, in which he called for a “Covid ceasefire” to tackle the crisis.

The military has struggled to keep control since taking power in a February coup that triggered nationwide protests, strikes and fighting on multiple fronts in border regions as civilians take up arms against the junta.