Myanmar’s military ruler has announced that Russia will send two million doses of coronavirus vaccine from this month, as the Southeast Asian country reported another record in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
General Min Aung Hlaing, who led a February 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, said the virus was spreading fast in Myanmar and that senior Russian defence officials had told him help with vaccines was on the way.
“I told them that I want two million and they will give,” he said in remarks carried by army-owned Myawaddy television.
Myanmar reported 4,320 cases on Friday, a record for a second successive day, and 63 deaths.
Min Aung Hlaing said last month that he was seeking seven million doses of Russian vaccines.
Myanmar is in the middle of its most serious wave of infections to date, with efforts to manage the outbreak hampered by nationwide political chaos in the wake of the military’s power grab.
There have also been reports of a COVID outbreak inside its prisons, including at the notorious Insein, where at least 40 prisoners have reportedly tested positive on Thursday.
In the early part of the pandemic, many prisoners in Insein jail became sick and some died, but there was little COVID-19 testing for prisoners.
Overall, some health experts said Myanmar’s real rate of infection is likely to be far higher, given a collapse in testing since the coup and health workers joining strikes in protest.
Russia is among the few countries that have openly embraced the military government, which has been condemned globally for the coup and the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy groups.
The military government said most of those killed or arrested were “terrorists” inciting violence.
Min Aung Hlaing said Myanmar was eager to make its own COVID-19 vaccines and Russia wanted to cooperate and send a delegation to inspect its production plant during this month. He did not elaborate.
As the COVID pandemic rages, protests against the military government also continue in several parts of the country.
Protesters in Hpakant, Kachin, marched against Myanmar's military junta this afternoon (Jul 9).
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) July 9, 2021
In the township of Launglon in Tanintharyi District, masked protesters staged a dawn strike on Saturday to denounce the Min Aung Hlaing, while calling for a return of the civilian rule, according to a social media post.
In Pyikyi Takon in Mandalay, Kachin State, several protesters, including a monk, held a candle-light strike on Friday night calling for the removal of the military dictatorship.
Photos also showed women in the township of Wuntho in Sagaing district praying for peace in Myanmar and protesting against the military leadership.
Arrests have also continued, with reports of security forces raiding a house in Thaketa and arresting without warrant five civilians, including the mother of a protester and his two brothers, according to social media.
In a statement on Friday, the opposition National Unity Government’s acting President Duwa Lashi said that the military “has been using the virus outbreak as an opportunity to suppress the opposition and does not have sympathy on public’s sufferings”.
According to the human rights group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there have been 898 people killed by the military government since the coup began. At least 5,127 are currently detained or have been sentenced while 1,963 have evaded arrest.