There are calls for Australia to take action against the Myanmar junta for targeting and attacking medical workers treating victims of violence.
Since the 1 February military coup, medics and doctors have worked on the frontlines of the pro-democracy protest movement, saving lives.
But increasingly, the country’s security forces are targeting those medical workers, with the regime issuing dozens of arrest warrants for nurses, medics and doctors in recent weeks.
Others have been killed and critically injured.
The clampdown on medics could not come at a worse time for Myanmar, as the country grapples with a new wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Raymond Tint Way, a psychiatrist and member of Sydney’s Burmese diaspora, told SBS News medical friends of his have been detained and attacked in Myanmar.
“One surgeon friend of mine was arbitrarily arrested by the military and beaten, and other GPs who have been offering free services to pro-democracy protestors have been attacked, beaten, and arrested by security forces,” he said.
“They are all scared for their lives.”
Dr Way said a close friend of his also recently died from coronavirus.
“This has been affecting me personally and the Australian Burmese community on a close level,” he said.
“The Australian government needs to step up and do more, including sanctions, to condemn the Myanmar military’s murder of its own people.”
Nearly 900 people have been killed since the February coup, and 5,200 others have been detained.
The Australian Medical Association says the attacks on medical workers mark a horrific new chapter in Myanmar’s pro-democracy struggle.
The AMA’s Paul Komesaroff wants Australia to consider a range of diplomatic actions in response.
Further actions taken by other governments include economic sanctions targeting companies owned by members of the Myanmar military, and assisting Myanmar citizens in seeking refuge in other countries.
“The head of the vaccination command force has been arrested, and the stories that we’re getting is that the number of COVID cases in Myanmar is surging to unprecedented levels,” he said.
“So the health of the population is seriously at risk, not just from the attacks of the military itself, but from the secondary effects of the attacks on the health profession.”
Officials in Myanmar reported 4,132 new cases of COVID-19 and 51 deaths on Thursday.
There have been at least 180,055 cases of COVID-19 and 3,621 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University.
But the numbers are probably much higher, with experts concerned about under-reporting of infections in the country, partly because of the disruption caused by the coup.
Human rights group Fortify Rights has been speaking with medical staff who have fled the country out of fear for their lives.
Senior human rights researcher John Quinley said the organisation had been in contact with around ten medical professionals who had fled the country in recent weeks.
SBS News understands many dozens more have fled and sought help from other avenues, including family and friends.
“I think this is a well-founded fear that people are going into hiding. Being put in a Myanmar prison means you could be tortured. Some people have been tortured to death since 1 February,” Mr Quinley said.
“These medics have witnessed peaceful protesters shot to death. The Australian government could do more to register its disgust at these human rights violations, including targeted sanctions against the military regime.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.
The Australian government has so far resisted placing sanctions on the coup leaders.
“Our consideration is not to impose them at this time. It is not our view that they would advance our interests and our interests in supporting the ASEAN-led solution and the ASEAN efforts that are being made,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told a Senate estimates hearing last month.
“We have been very committed to supporting regional efforts to deescalate the situation in Myanmar and to work towards a solution.”