By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church of Myanmar is playing a key role in the battle against Covid-19 as cases surge in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.
Church’s coordination team
Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, leads the Church’s national coordination team on Covid-19 that prioritizes prevention and awareness campaigns as well as offers Church properties as quarantine centres in the 16 dioceses across the country in collaboration with public health departments.
The team, which was established in Yangon on Monday, consists of bishops from Caritas Myanmar, the healthcare commission, Catholic doctors and members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM).
Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho of Pyay, head of the CBCM’s healthcare commission, said the team has discussed preparations on how the Church will contribute to fighting Covid-19.
“As the world, including Myanmar, grapples with containing the coronavirus, we all need to join hands in fighting Covid-19,” he told UCA News.
Since last week, 16 dioceses have suspended daily and Sunday Masses and other liturgical ceremonies. Catholics have been urged to take part in online Sunday and Holy Week ceremonies from home.
The Islamic Religious Council of Myanmar last week offered to turn mosques and religious schools into quarantine sites, while some Buddhist monasteries have already done so.
With a population of some 54 million, the Southeast Asian country has a weak healthcare system following decades of neglect under the former ruling military junta.
On March 13, Myanmar formed the “COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee”, an emergency task force in cooperation with the military and civilian government ministries, to support and step up the nation’s response to the pandemic.
“If each of us works with a full sense of duty to stop the spread of Covid-19, we will be able to overcome this challenge,” State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the Committee, said in a televised address on Tuesday.
Myanmar on Tuesday reported a total of 15 cases, just a week after the country’s first two cases were confirmed, mostly among those who have travelled overseas.
A 69-year-old nose cancer patient, who returned on March 14 after a month’s treatment in Australia, died in a hospital in Yangon Tuesday morning, becoming the country’s first fatality.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) warned on Sunday that the country is at a very high risk of a “major outbreak” of COVID-19 as large numbers of migrant workers return from Thailand.
The foreign ministry has announced that those who enter Myanmar through border points will no longer be allowed to go to their homes directly and will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period at government-designated facilities that are being expanded.
More than 23,000 people returned from Thailand via Myawaddy in Karen state on March 28 and 29, according to MOHS data.
More than 877,000 cases have been reported worldwide with over 43,000 deaths.