Myanmar targets higher vaccinations as Covid-19 cases soar

Volunteers prepare to bury the body of a Covid-19 victim during their funeral at a cemetery in Mandalay, Myanmar, on July 14, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's military-controlled health ministry expects half of the population to be vaccinated against Covid-19 this year, state media reported on Tuesday (July 20), a day after authorities announced a record tally of coronavirus deaths.

The inoculation target comes as the Southeast Asian nation's effort to contain an exponential rise in infections has been thrown into chaos by the turmoil since the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that only about 1.6 million people had been inoculated out of a population of 54 million, but said "vaccines are constantly being imported to ensure that 100 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated".

The report said that about 750,000 Chinese vaccine doses would arrive on Thursday and more over the following two days.

The United Nations said in a report on Monday it was stepping up efforts to combat an "alarming spike" in Covid-19 cases and expected Myanmar to receive enough vaccines via the Covax facility this year for 20 per cent of the population.

Myanmar registered a record 281 Covid-19 deaths on Monday, and 5,189 new infections, state-run MRTV Television reported, citing health ministry figures.

But medics and funeral services say the real toll is much higher than the military government's figures, and crematoriums are overloaded.

Illustrating the extent of the spread of the virus, China on Tuesday reported its highest daily tally of new infections since January, mostly linked to Chinese nationals returning to Yunnan province from Myanmar.

Zaw Wai Soe, health minister of the National Unity Government (NUG), which was set up as a shadow government by opponents of army rule, was quoted by the US-funded RFA (Radio Free Asia) website as saying that up to 400,000 lives could be lost if swift action was not taken to slow infections.

The junta's critics also say lives have been lost because of its restrictions on some private oxygen suppliers in the name of stopping hoarding.

Reuters was unable to reach the health ministry or a junta spokesman for comment on the outbreak and the response.

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