The emergencies in Myanmar are piling up and pushing the country toward devastating ends. The 2021 coup took shape as the pandemic was surging across the globe. Half a year later, the effects of these two crises are compounding into a calamity for the south Asian country.
On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since 2011 the country has existed as a combination of democracy and military dictatorship. Myanmar’s history, also known as Burma, has been a string of military coups and dictatorships since its independence in 1948. Political instability is, therefore, nothing new to the people of Myanmar. Before 2021 the biggest story of the last decade in Myanmar was not the struggle between democracy and military dictatorship but the genocide against the Rohingya people beginning in 2017.
In the initial aftermath of the February coup, democratic activists took to the streets to protest the military dictatorship. The military leaders’ tolerance of these protests did not last long. By the end of May, hardline response tactics by the military toward the protesters had left thousands injured and at least 600 dead. That number today has grown to more than 5,200 imprisoned and 912 arrested.
As the military sought to arrest identified protesters at their homes, the protesters often went into hiding. The military then committed to a policy of arresting the children of the protesters when they could not locate the parents. A report in July from the United Nations Child Rights Committee stated 1,000 children had been imprisoned and at least 75 killed since the February coup.
Many of the protesters came from the nation’s healthcare community. As a result, the government crackdown and arrests largely neutralized Myanmar’s ability to combat the pandemic. The nation’s hospitals are now only 40% operational, according to estimates from the United Nations.
Now the coronavirus is raging out of control. One journalist expressed to BBC: “We keep asking ourselves are we going to die of Covid or are we going to die because of the impact of the political crisis.”
Myanmar has recorded 344,000 confirmed cases and more than 12,000 coronavirus deaths, but those numbers are terribly inaccurate. In July, the country of 54 million people tested only 9,000 to 17,000 people per day. Deaths at the hospital by coronavirus are the only deaths included in the country’s pandemic death toll. Medics and funeral service operators say the numbers are far higher than what the government has reported.
In the final days of July, the United Nations warned that half the people of Myanmar could become infected with the coronavirus within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, the government’s devastation in Rakhine province against the Rohingya since 2017 left an estimated 180,000 people displaced there. That displaced population is nearly inaccessible to humanitarian assistance and aid organizations and facing a different level of pandemic horrors.