(Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. Various countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.
The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.
Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker. A drive to vaccinate some 40,000 inmates in densely packed prisons, which have seen major virus outbreaks recently, started on Wednesday, state-run MRTV reported.
The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after a devastating cyclone in 2008.
There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.
Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.
Vaccinations began at Insein and a prison in the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday and would be extended to inmates countrywide, MRTV reported, citing the prisons department.
Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.
Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.
The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.
But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” MRTV reported.
(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)