Myanmar races to build field hospital as COVID-19 surge stretches health system

YANGON: Myanmar authorities are racing to build a field hospital in the commercial capital of Yangon to cope with a surge of COVID-19 infections that doctors fear threatens to overwhelm the country's fragile health system.

The Southeast Asian nation reported 307 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday (Sep 15), its highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic in March, and another 134 on Wednesday morning, taking the total to 3,636 cases and 39 deaths.



Myanmar had gone weeks without a case of local transmission before an outbreak in mid-August in the western region of Rakhine that has spread across the country.

READ: Calls grow for Myanmar election delay as COVID-19 cases spike

Three hospitals in Yangon, the site of most of the cases and now under a second lockdown, have been repurposed to treat COVID-19 patients and the government is building a field hospital with 500 beds on a football pitch.

"We have no more space to accommodate a huge outbreak," Kaung Kyat Soe, the chief of the new temporary hospital, told Reuters on Tuesday, as construction workers labored on the field.



"The situation will get worse if we can't accept patients, that's why we are building the shelters urgently," he said.

Workers build new temporary shelters for COVID-19 cases on a football pitch in Yangon on Sep 15, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

Decades of neglect by Myanmar's formerly ruling military government led the health system to be ranked the worst in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000, the last time it published ratings. The health budget was around 0.3 per cent of GDP prior to the start of democratic reforms in 2011.

As of March, the World Bank said Myanmar had just 383 intensive care unit beds for a population of 51 million and 249 ventilators, compared with 6,000 beds and more than 10,000 ventilators in neighboring Thailand, a country of 69 million. More ventilators have since been donated to Myanmar.

Some Yangon doctors said the government's response had contributed to the shortage of hospital space and treatment options.

READ: Myanmar residents barricade city streets as COVID-19 cases rise

Officials have asked people who want to be tested to be hospitalised before undergoing swab tests, contributing to a shortage of patient beds, said Kyaw Min Tun, who runs a fever clinic in the city. "That is not necessary," he said.

In addition, medical workers suspected of having the virus have been sent to quarantine centres around the city, forcing them to shut private clinics, said Ko Ko Htwe, a doctor at a local clinic.

A spokesman for the health ministry did not answer phone calls and messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Workers build new temporary shelters for COVID-19 cases on a football pitch in Yangon on Sep 15, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein said in an interview published in state media on Wednesday that he hoped to get the outbreak under control within three weeks.

He said there were still hundreds of places in government-run quarantine centers where suspected cases and people who have had contact with positive cases are being sent.

Some in the centres have complained of poor conditions, including patients who have tested positive for COVID-1Read More – Source