Six people have died from COVID-19 in northwest Myanmar’s Chin state over the past five days, including three since Wednesday, according to officials, who are struggling to contain an outbreak along the country’s border with coronavirus-ravaged India.
The outbreak comes as Chin, Myanmar’s poorest state, is wracked with armed conflict between local militias that have risen up to fight the military junta that deposed the country’s civilian government four months ago, and a doctor shortage from a nationwide work stoppage by professionals to oppose the army regime.
In the townships of Tonzang and Cikha, bordered to the north and west by the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, a pregnant woman died of the disease caused by the coronavirus on Sunday, a Christian priest died on Tuesday, and three others died on Wednesday.
A person in nearby Falam township died of COVID-19 on Wednesday after being diagnosed with the disease a day earlier, authorities said.
Tonzang and Cikha now account for the lion’s share of the 183 recorded COVID-19 infections throughout Chin state, the director of Tonzang hospital told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Currently, there are 167 people [infected in the two townships]," he said, adding that his hospital had been inundated with patients and is experiencing a critical shortage of healthcare workers.
“Tonzang township is now designated as a ‘stay-at-home’ area [as of May 28] and there are a lot of sick people right now. We don’t have enough medical staff, although we have sufficient amounts of oxygen, thanks to donations. Still, we need more medicine.”
Several COVID-19 infections were first reported in Tonzang and Cikha on May 11 and the number of cases has quickly risen, with at least 82 reported on Monday alone, according to authorities.
Residents of Cikha told RFA that authorities have had to close a testing site in the town hospital due to the sharp increase in patients.
“The hospitals are overcrowded, and people are no longer being admitted,” one resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Nurses are visiting houses to give tests and only those in serious condition—such as needing a respirator—are taken in.”
A resident of Falam, where a 53-year-old woman died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, has reported 16 cases since May 20 and ordered lockdowns at the homes of people diagnosed with the disease.
In the nearby township of Kalay, six patients were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 at the private Wesley Hospital, according to the facility’s superintendent Dr. Lalfakzuala. He said that the hospital was required to close temporarily after eight staff members were found to be infected.
The township’s public hospital is seriously understaffed, Lalfakzuala said, because many of the healthcare workers have joined the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) to protest the military’s overthrow of the democratically elected government in a Feb. 1 coup.
Residents of Kalay said that the entire township is under lockdown orders beginning Thursday.
Border areas at risk
Sources told RFA they believe that the coronavirus is spreading through Chin state by people who are illegally crossing the border with India, which has recorded the world’s second-highest rate of COVID-19 infections after the U.S. at 28.4 million and rising.
“The virus came from India,” said one local resident. “There have been many [unofficial] border crossings and people got infected.”
Chin state also accounts for roughly half of Myanmar’s 270-km (170-mile) border with Bangladesh.
The first case of COVID-19 in Myanmar was detected in March 2020, and as of Wednesday, the Ministry of Health has recorded 143,629 cases and 3,219 deaths.
According to Ministry of Health spokesman Khin Khin Gyi, at least 18.8 million of Myanmar’s 54 million people had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and authorities have more than a million doses in reserve.
Before the February coup, around 15,000 people were being tested for COVID-19 each day, but only around 2,000 now receive tests daily, according to the junta’s own statistics.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.