Medical professionals in Myanmar say they’ve been forced to go into hiding after being violently targeted by police and the military amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s been five months since the people of Myanmar started their struggle for a return to democracy.
Now the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll, and the country is running low on oxygen and face masks to protect themselves.
Lines of people in Myanmar have been filmed desperately trying to get their hands on oxygen and masks as the country enters a new dark chapter, with COVID-19 cases spiking.
According to official statistics, there were 80 coronavirus deaths and more than 5,000 new cases reported on Monday alone. With positive results from more than a third of people tested.
There have been more than 200,000 confirmed infections and just over 4,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
Having initially supported the anti-coup protesters, also known as the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), Myanmar’s medics have been targeted for reprisals with many going into hiding.
Attacks by police and the military on medics have been well-documented, with footage capturing shootings, beatings and arrests on the streets of major urban centres in Myanmar.
Dr Alex*, who worked as an emergency doctor at one of Myanmar’s largest hospitals, said he fled for his life in March and lived in constant fear, after witnessing colleagues beaten and taken away by Myanmar authorities.
Like dozens of other doctors, he is now in hiding when the country needs its medical professionals most.
“Our life, our happiness, our job everything was destroyed since the military coup,” he told SBS News from an undisclosed location.
“As long as you can hide it’s okay, but if you go out there’s a high risk of being detained by the military.”
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, there have been 906 people killed and 6,676 people detained since the start of the coup.
Dr Alex said friends and colleagues included some of those who had been killed and detained.
“Since the military coup, we have lost our job, we are hiding and we are away from our families, our home, away from our job. We can’t go back to our home, we can’t go back to our work, we can’t get our normal life back again.”
In an interview with SBS News, Myanmar’s exiled Health Minister Professor Zaw Wai Soe, also in hiding, said officials were dramatically under-reporting the true scale of infections.
“The health system has been collapsing … terribly collapsing,” he said.
He said at least 17 of his medical students have been killed by the regime since the February coup, with many others beaten and arrested.
SBS News understands dozens of Myanmar’s medics and doctors have fled and sought help from family, friends and human rights organisations.
“The military is pointing guns at the public and then healthcare staff and then healthcare personnel how can we work with that and that’s why the healthcare system is paralysed totally paralysed,” he said.
The exiled Health Minister called on Australia to impose tough sanctions on the military regime, something the Australian Government has so far refused to do.
“Myanmar will be a failed state. You have to save Myanmar, otherwise Myanmar will become a failed state, and thousands of deaths will be there. Not just Australian government but other countries must act now, right now,” he said.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said Australia does not consider imposing tough sanctions on the military regime to be in Australia’s interests.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.
* Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.