Social welfare organisations overwhelmed by escalating Covid-19 death toll 

For more than one week, three Yangon-based social welfare groups say they have assisted in organising around 600 cremations and funeral services every day, as Covid-19 infections surge amid a dysfunctional post-coup health infrastructure. 

The department of health under the junta is widely believed to have underreported the country’s Covid-related deaths, claiming that there have been a total of more than 700 nationwide in the first 13 days of July.  

“Many have died due to hypoxia. It’s worse in the elderly and those with underlying conditions. But it all boils down to the pandemic, after all. It’s not easy to even get a coffin or a stretcher. Everything’s extremely scarce now,” a spokesperson from Yangon’s Bo Sein Social Services said. 

Local representatives for the three organisations Myanmar Now spoke with said that their groups normally have the collective capacity to hold funeral services for 100 deceased persons per day. 

“Normally, our group would only have to deal with 20 to 25 bodies a day, but now it’s become more than 45 to 50 these days, and sometimes we have even had to close our office,” the spokesperson of a social welfare group in North Okkalapa said, adding that there are new social service teams emerging to help cope with the crisis. 

He chose not to identify the name of his organisation, due to security concerns. 

Bodies awaiting cremation at Yay Way cemetery on July 14 (Photo: Myanmar Now)

The outreach groups are sending the bodies to four cemeteries, including Yay Way in North Okkalapa Township, Htein Pin in Hlaing Tharyar, Kyi Su in South Dagon and Kyu Chaung in Shwepyitha. 

A local man who was at the Yay Way cemetery for two hours on Wednesday said that he witnessed the cemetery overcrowded with carts carrying coffins, waiting for their turn to bury or cremate the dead. He noted that all three incinerators in the crematorium were operating non-stop to cope with the unprecedented number of bodies. 

He told Myanmar Now that he saw around 50 bodies awaiting cremation, and that the parking lot was crowded with the cars of people attending funeral services and those from social service organisations assisting with the burials. 

Another member of a Yangon-based social welfare group said that the logistics of arranging so many burials and funeral services had become difficult, with the cemetery becoming a chaotic place. 

“Cremation takes time and for that reason alone, it’s really hard to get to the families on time [to collect the bodies of their loved ones],” he explained. 

Yay Way cemetery on July 14 (Photo: Myanmar Now)

Myanmar Now contacted the municipal authorities regarding the increase in Covid-19 deaths, but they would not provide public comment on the situation. 

Myanmar Now previously reported that Covid-19 patients were dying at an unprecedented rate due to the unavailability of medical oxygen. Sources at oxygen factories in Yangon said that the junta had ordered that the gas be exclusively supplied to Covid-19 centres run by the military council, and have prohibited both private and state-owned producers from distributing to individuals.

Junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun confirmed on Monday that the military had, in fact, restricted private oxygen plants from selling oxygen to the general public amidst the third wave of the pandemic. 

“We admit it. All the hospitals and clinics are full. All the quarantine centers are full and we can’t receive patients anymore,” Zaw Min Tun said in a press conference in Naypyitaw. 

Demands for oxygen have been at an all-time high, as the virus affects patients’ ability to breathe. Representatives of social service teams said that people in Yangon have been paying as much as 350,000 to 400,000 kyat (US$210-240) for a 40-liter tank of oxygen. 

Civilians wait to fill their oxygen tanks in South Dagon on July 14 (Photo: Myanmar Now)


Related Articles

Back to top button