Myanmar army attacks medics, hampering COVID response, rights groups say

Aug 10 (Reuters) - Myanmar's army carried out at least 252 attacks and threats against health workers since a Feb. 1 coup, killing at least 25 medics and hampering the response to a resurgent outbreak of COVID-19, a report by rights groups said on Tuesday.

More than 190 health workers have been arrested and 86 raids on hospitals carried out since the coup, said the report by Insecurity Insight, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and Johns Hopkins University Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR).

They identified 15 incidents in which the response to the COVID-19 outbreak had been obstructed - including confiscation of personal protection equipment and oxygen supplies for the exclusive use of the army.

Some COVID-19 care centres were forced to close, it said.

"Health workers have been forced into hiding for fear of being arrested or after having arrest warrants issued against them," said the report. "In some cases, their family members were arrested instead."

Reuters was unable to reach spokespeople for the junta or health ministry for comment on the report.

Myanmar's healthcare system has largely collapsed since the army overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with many medical workers joining a Civil Disobedience Movement in strikes to protest against junta rule.

The military authorities have appealed to doctors to return to work and have called for public cooperation to try to curb the latest outbreak of coronavirus, by far the most serious to hit the country of around 54 million people.

An average of nearly 300 people have died a day from COVID-19 over the past week, according to official figures that medics believe to be underestimates because of a lack of testing.

The outbreak was being brought under control to some extent because of the efforts of officials and the public, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as saying by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

The report by the rights groups said that while the army had been behind most of the attacks on medical workers, some had been carried out by armed groups opposing the junta - including bomb blasts near hospitals and an attack on a military convoy that was reported to be carrying medicines.

Reporting by Shoon Naing; Editing by Matthew Tostevin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.