Military in ‘complete chaos’ as Covid-19 infections rise within its ranks

The junta’s troops and leadership are not being spared from the rising third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic devastating Myanmar. 

Although daily updates published by the military’s health department make no mention of infections within the armed forces, multiple sources and media reports say that the pandemic has spread to regional command headquarters, battalions and units in Mandalay, Naypyitaw, Yangon and Mawlamyine.

Soldiers, officers and their families have been infected, with generals and commanders included among those who are sick. 

Lt-Gen Than Hlaing—chief of police and deputy minister of home affairs under the junta—and his wife, Khin Thidar One, were reportedly undergoing treatment at a 300-bed military hospital in Naypyitaw’s Zayarthiri Township at the time of reporting.

“The police commander-in-chief and his wife were admitted to the hospital just a few days ago. His wife is now in the intensive care unit,” a Covid-19 patient at the same hospital told Myanmar Now.

Before Than Hlaing and his wife were admitted, 2nd Adj-Gen Zin Min Htet and his wife were also brought to the hospital after contracting Covid-19, the patient said. 

Mandalay volunteers carry away the bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients in mid-July (Myanmar Now)

Multiple residents near the Southeastern Regional Command headquarters in Mawlamyine, Mon State, said that the military had restricted their battalions’ movements because of the recent spread of the virus within their base. 

Commander of the southeastern military headquarters Gen Ko Ko Maung has reportedly been undergoing Covid-19 treatment for around one week, according to the wife of an officer from the Mon State-based Light Infantry Division (LID) 44. 

“It started with a fever after he returned from making a donation at the hospital. Even the medical officer of the Mawlamyine 500-bed [military] hospital has been infected,” she said, referring to a colonel. 

She said that nearly all the medical staff of the Mawlamyine military hospital have subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, though it is not known whether the virus was introduced to the hospital by the general or if they were already infected at the time of his visit.

“The commander stays at the regional headquarters. We only found out about the infection after he came to the hospital [for a diagnosis]. All the doctors at the Mawlamyine hospital have been infected except for two,” said the officer’s wife.

The military hospital was put under lockdown after Gen Ko Ko Maung’s visit, but the outpatient department remained open until Sunday.

Mandalay volunteers wait in line for the cremation of bodies of deceased Covid-19 patients in mid-July (Myanmar Now)

Another regional commander, Maj-Gen Myat Thet Oo, head of the military’s Northern Command in Myitkyina, Kachin State, was also undergoing treatment for Covid-19 this month, according to a July 5 report by Mizzima News.  

His personal assistant and other military officers were also infected, Mizzima said. 

Around 300 people at the No. 3 Defence Industry’s military factory in Bago Region have contracted the virus and nine have died, according to a July 20 report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), which cited a factory worker. 

Despite the high infection rate at the site, most patients did not receive medical treatment and continued daily operations at the factory, the report said. It added that only two deaths have been recorded officially, and were attributed to alcohol abuse. 

With cases on the rise, the military is reportedly no longer administering Covid-19 tests in many locations and are instead putting troops on lockdown.

Don’t think it’s only bad out there. Entire families have been dying among the battalions as well.

A medical officer ranked as a captain in a Mandalay military hospital estimated that more than 10 family members of military personnel were dying daily in the hospital due to the pandemic.

“Don’t think it’s only bad out there,” he said, referring to the rest of Myanmar. “Entire families have been dying among the battalions as well.”

He told Myanmar Now that at his hospital they transfer patients needing critical care to other military hospitals in Meiktila and Pyin Oo Lwin, but that the chances of survival have been very low.  

“It’s very bad in the military. We can’t even get people tested anymore. Although the younger people have a better chance of surviving, the elderly parents are in really bad shape. We can’t even test them anymore,” the captain continued. 

He blamed the military council’s poor management skills for the high fatality rate during the third wave of the pandemic. 

“It’s complete chaos inside the military. We can’t admit everyone to the hospital. We have had to ask them to stay home and only come to the hospital if they need oxygen,” he said. 

In Yangon, around 80 people from a military unit stationed near the Aung Mingalar bus station in North Okkalapa Township have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the officer’s wife from LID 44, who cited information she had received from family members of the officers there. 

It’s complete chaos inside the military. We can’t admit everyone to the hospital. We have had to ask them to stay home and only come to the hospital if they need oxygen.

Included among those infected is the unit commander, Gen Zaw Min Aye, she said. 

The military’s medical school has also reportedly been shut down in Mingaladon Township, as cadets and senior officers alike have gotten sick. 

“Even the 1,000-bed hospitals are overloaded. We have to manage our stations ourselves. We had to quarantine the officers in the barracks for 10 days. We kept them quarantined for three more days after they got their sense of smell back. And then they have to quarantine themselves at home,” the officer’s wife said from Mon State. 

Myanmar Now tried to contact the coup council’s spokespersons to comment on the Covid-19 situation within the military, but the calls went unanswered.

People wait to refill oxygen tanks in the Mandalay Industrial Zone (Myanmar Now)

“Many military families are going to suffer under the governance of these brainless people,” the National Unity Government’s health minister Dr. Zaw Wai Soe told Myanmar Now, referring to the junta. 

Yangon-based charity groups have stated that hundreds of people have been dying daily of Covid-19 in Yangon and Mandalay and that the cause of death is most often hypoxia.

Many military families are going to suffer under the governance of these brainless people.

While the demand for oxygen is at an all-time high, the military has not only restricted oxygen factories from distributing it to civilians, commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has said via junta mouthpieces last week that the oxygen supply is adequate and must not be politicised. 

Military surgeon Cpt Min Maung Maung, who is taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement, said that the military should try to contain the virus’s spread within its ranks, rather than downplaying the infection rate in state-owned media. 

“I think they’re facing a situation where they don’t want their inferiors to see that they’re incapable of controlling the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. 

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