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Half of Myanmar’s population could get COVID-19 within the next two weeks, the UK tells United Nations Security Council.

The United Kingdom has warned the United Nations Security Council that half of coup-wracked Myanmar’s population of 54 million could become infected with COVID-19 within the next two weeks.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military deposed an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering widespread protests and fighting between the army and newly-formed civilian militias.

The United States, the UK and others have imposed sanctions on the generals for the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed. The military’s sprawling businesses have also been targeted.

“The coup has resulted in a near-total collapse of the healthcare system, and healthcare workers are being attacked and arrested,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward told an informal Security Council discussion on Myanmar.

“The virus is spreading through the population, very fast indeed. By some estimates, in the next two weeks, half of the population of Myanmar could be infected with COVID,” she said.

The UK urged the Council to ensure resolution 2565, which demands ceasefires in conflict zones to allow the safe delivery of coronavirus vaccines, is respected in Myanmar.

“It is vital that we consider how to implement [it],” Woodward said.

Myanmar state media reported on Wednesday that the military is looking for international assistance to contain the coronavirus.

Infections in the Southeast Asian country have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in state media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

The UN has estimated that only 40 percent of Myanmar’s healthcare facilities are still able to function. Many doctors and healthcare workers joined the civil disobedience movement that began in the wake of the coup, and have been targeted by the military.

“In order to have smooth and effective COVID vaccination and providing humanitarian assistance, close-monitoring by the international community is essential,” Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who speaks for the elected civilian government, told the Security Council discussion.

Volunteers from the Red Cross of Longchuan County in China conducting COVID tests at a quarantine centre in an area controlled by the KIO in March 2021 [File: Yawng Htang/Al Jazeera]

“As such, we would like to request the UN, in particular the Security Council, to urgently establish a UN-led monitoring mechanism for effective COVID vaccination and smooth delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Myanmar recently received two million more doses of Chinese vaccines, but is believed to have vaccinated only about 3.2 percent of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.

Last week, a batch of donated Sinopharm doses arrived from China, military government authorities said, but they would be prioritised for those living along the China-Myanmar border.

China has also supplied more than 10,000 shots to a rebel group operating near its southern frontier in Myanmar, as Beijing seeks to halt an influx of cases from the country. Some of the ethnic organisations operating in the country’s borderlands continued COVID health measures with Chinese help as the nationwide response fell apart after the military seized power.

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