Junta lures, arrests community doctors by posing as Covid-19 patients

Military officials pretending to be Covid-19 patients in need of emergency treatment lured volunteers from a community-based Covid-19 response group in Yangon into a home on Monday and arrested three doctors who came to help.

The doctors were working with the Covid-19 Prevention and People’s Benefit Group in North Dagon Township. Soldiers also subsequently raided the group’s office, and arrested two more doctors. 

A leader of the group told Myanmar Now that at around 10am, they had received a phone call saying there was a seriously ill Covid-19 patient in South Okkalapa Township in need of medical care. One driver and three doctors went to the location by ambulance, where the doctors were then arrested.

“When they arrived, they had to go to the second floor of a two-storey house. 

The driver was waiting in the car. When they reached the upper floor, all the doors were closed. There were no patients. There were only junta officials,” the group’s leader told Myanmar Now.

The driver, who was waiting in the car, saw what was happening and reported the situation to the group’s office in North Dagon so that volunteers there could escape before a potential raid, according to the group leader. 

He said that two doctors who were doing consultations with patients online in the office were arrested by the junta officials who arrived before they were able to flee. 

During the raid, the military seized twenty 40-liter oxygen cylinders and twelve 15-liter oxygen cylinders, as well as medicine and personal protective equipment worth 3.2 million kyat (US$1,950). 

It is not known where the junta’s forces took the five doctors, which include three men and two women. In accordance with the Civil Disobedience Movement, they had been providing community-based care instead of working in hospitals under the control of the military coup council.

In May, the Covid-19 Prevention and People’s Benefit Group drafted a plan to provide community-based medical treatment to COVID-19 patients, and in July, they announced their contact numbers on various private Facebook groups for people in need. 

“I think the junta got our information from township groups. We did not announce our information in public groups. We announced the information in township groups such as the South Okkalapa group or the North Dagon group,” the organisation’s leader said. 

Yangon, which has a population of more than 7 million, has seen the Covid-19 death rate rise dramatically since early July. 

According to charity groups working in three of Yangon’s townships, around 600 bodies are being sent to cemeteries daily for cremation in the areas where they work. Before, on average, the same cemeteries handled services for around 100 deaths per day. 

Social welfare volunteers and health workers say that hospitals under the junta have been unable to provide Covid-19 treatment to the city’s thousands of sick people, and local groups are caring for one another in the absence of a functioning healthcare system. 

“Government hospitals do not provide services to the general public at all. So, we shoulder that burden as much as we can. We take care of the health of the general public. If we wait for the junta’s services, we will see more deaths,” the leader of the Covid-19 Prevention and People’s Benefit Group said.

Following Monday’s arrests, many volunteer doctors and social welfare groups who had been paying home visits to treat Covid-19 patients wrote on social media that they were pausing their activities.

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