Yangon (Reuters) – As coronavirus cases rise in Myanmar, work appears to have never stopped for volunteers who have stepped in to help transport people suspected of having symptoms to quarantine centers or hospitals.
“The situation is not good.” Ki Myint, 66, who leads a volunteer group in Yanken Town, one of the hardest-hit areas in Yangon, the main city of Myanmar, said, “Ambulances and our crews cannot take a break.
Thousands of volunteers in Myanmar are a critical component of the COVID-19 response in a country with one of the weakest health systems in the world.
Myanmar appears to have avoided the worst of the epidemic with only seven deaths a month ago – but the high number of infections has pushed the death toll to 371 from more than 16,500.
According to Reuters data, the death toll in Myanmar doubled in 7.8 days – faster than any other country with more than five deaths.
More than 45,000 people, including COVID-19 patients, who have yet to be tested, their close contacts and returning migrant workers, are housed in buildings from schools and monasteries to government offices and tower blocks.
Most of these are run by volunteers, and they generally receive no compensation. They are given whatever protective equipment is available, sometimes food and a place to stay.
“Without the volunteers, I don’t think we could have survived,” said Ai, who is a recovered patient and did not want to reveal her full name for fear of being identified.
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outbreak and the role of volunteers.
“I usually sleep for an hour or two,” said volunteer Zar Ni, who celebrated her 29th birthday with work on Thursday. “I am happy to help. At first I was afraid to be injured but I am not injured anymore.”
Myanmar imposed a lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the virus, and volunteers move away from their families as soon as they start work. Kyi Myint and his team of 15 stay at a Buddhist temple.
He said, “This is not the time for depression, we are helping as much as we can.”
Covering with Sam Aung Moon and Too Aung in Yangon; Edited by Matthew Tostevin and William Mallard