Myanmar’s countrywide scramble for oxygen . . .
Amid a third wave of COVID-19, residents of Myanmar have been waiting in long queues to refill oxygen cylinders and secure other medical equipment to help treat their infected loved ones. Witnesses report seeing soldiers opening fire to disperse crowds at oxygen factories in an attempt to secure the oxygen for themselves. On Monday, a junta spokesman announced that oxygen suppliers will only be allowed to sell to regime-controlled hospitals and clinics. Myanmar’s health-care system has crumbled since the February 1 military coup, with medical professionals joining the anti-regime civil disobedience movement and being persecuted by the junta.
Thailand, Vietnam seeing the worst so far . . .
Other countries in the region have also seen alarming surges in COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Thailand reported 8,685 new cases, while Vietnam has seen its daily numbers hover around 1,000 over the last few days. Both governments responded with new restrictions, including lockdowns on their respective epicentres, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Both also approved self-isolation of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients to reduce the burden on hospitals and authorized the mixing of different vaccines. In Thailand, this decision came after hundreds of medical workers tested positive for COVID-19 despite receiving two doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine. In Vietnam, where skepticism of Chinese vaccines is high, Sinopharm is only approved for Chinese nationals in Vietnam or Vietnamese living in border areas with China or engaging in trade and service with China.
Common struggles, different realities . . .
Many countries in mainland Southeast Asia share similar concerns: the rise of contagious variants and inoculation campaigns struggling to keep pace. With migrants regularly crossing the region’s mostly unsupervised borders and the potential risk of an exodus from Myanmar due to the ongoing crisis, containing local outbreaks will likely prove challenging. This is particularly concerning given the reluctance to prioritize migrant workers for vaccination and uneven progress in the region. Despite significant successes in Cambodia and Laos, countries with much smaller populations than Thailand and Vietnam, increasingly infectious outbreaks may threaten the recovery of the entire region.