By Robin Gomes
In Myanmar, the serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises unleashed by the Feb. 1 military coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and the most basic healthcare almost absent. In this worsening situation, the Catholic bishops of the country have called for a national prayer campaign against the pandemic that is threatening the country and the world.
“People of Myanmar: Let us raise our hands and pray,” wrote the Catholic bishops of Myanmar in an appeal released on Monday. “Let every heart raise its voice to God to save us all,” they wrote urging that the prayer campaign begin immediately for “at least for two weeks”.
“As we sail through many challenges in our lives, experts have warned that the world, including Myanmar, need to get ready to face an extraordinary challenge from the spiralling virus in the new wave,” said the appeal signed by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar, and Auxiliary Bishop John Saw Yaw Han of Yangon, CBCM general secretary.
The only war against the virus
Noting that the Delta strain of the virus is highly contagious and is causing deaths amidst an acute shortage of oxygen, the bishops pleaded for unity and an end to conflict and displacement. They said, “These are very threatening times for the dignity and survival of our people.” “The only war we need to wage is against the virus. Facing this emergency let us arm ourselves only with medical kits, oxygen and other support to our dear people.” As the country faces a shortage of human resources, the bishops urged all health workers “to reach out to the suffering people”.
Fallout from coup and Covid-19
The February 1 military coup that ousted overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government, has thrown the impoverished nation into a spiral of crises, with serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian repercussions on the people.
Since then, there has been no sign of a letup in the bloody crackdown by security forces against anti-coup protests and a civil disobedience movement. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit group that documents and compiles casualties in the protests, said on Monday 945 people have been killed by security forces.
The military junta’s hardline stand has re-ignited its old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as several independent civil resistance groups that are fighting the army’s atrocities. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, says over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.
Recourse to the Divine
Cardinal Bo said Myanmar’s bishops are not politicians but only “seek the good of our people”. He thus called upon “all people to enter into a campaign of prayer”, raising their “hands and hearts to the Almighty, for healing”. He called on the followers of various religions and faiths to “come together as one community” to “let compassion become the common religion in these dark days”.
The cardinal, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), invited the country’s Catholics to continuous prayers, adorations and rosary chains in families and communities. “Let us knock at the Divine doors, to melt the hearts of all people, to bring healing, peace and reconciliation,” he said. “Let the divine hand reach out and bless our country and protect our people from the pandemic and all other calamities,” he added.
Since the coup, Myanmar’s health system has virtually collapsed. Hospitals are unable to provide even the most basic healthcare as many doctors and healthcare workers have joined the mass civil disobedience movement against the junta that controls the Ministry of Health.
Appalled by the overwhelming third wave of infections, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, last week called for a “Covid ceasefire”. He said that even as infections and deaths were soaring, the military junta was escalating attacks against healthcare workers.
“Too many in Myanmar have needlessly perished and too many more will die without action by the United Nations”, Andrews warned.
The Health Ministry reported 330 deaths on Monday, taking the total to 10,061, since the start of the pandemic. 3,689 fresh infections were reported, bringing the tally in the country to 306,354. However, experts say the actual figures are highly underestimated.
The UK also warned the UN Security Council last week that half of Myanmar’s population of 54 million could become infected with Covid-19 within the next two weeks.