Fighting Covid at Myanmar's stadium-turned-hospital

Ye Aung THU
·2-min read

The stadium once roared with fans during Myanmar's top football games, but now bustles with workers wrapped in protective gear who are battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ayeyarwady Centre clinic was hastily built in September when case numbers started to surge in a country with one of the weakest health care systems in the world.

From just several hundred in mid-August, reported infections have since climbed to nearly 130,000 with more than 2,700 deaths.

The new hospital might be makeshift, but it is one of the best-equipped in the country, with 1,000 beds and 125 intensive care units, all monitored from a modern control room.

Plants and cheery signs wish patients back to full health.

The medical workers and volunteers have ping-pong tables to use in breaks and are able to exercise on the adjacent football pitch at the Thuwana stadium.

Fewer than 200 patients have died at the centre from some 10,000, a survival rate that has meant the hospital and its sister centre in Mandalay have become training hubs for medical staff from across the country.

"Maybe we can say we're winning," Doctor Htet Ko Ko, 30, told AFP after a gruelling 12-hour shift, layered in protective gear in the stifling heat.

"But new strains are appearing in other countries and they can come into our country at anytime."

Numbers of new cases have shown signs of trending downward, but civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned against complacency in her New Year's address.

Swathes of the country remain under partial lockdown, even if enforcement has been lax in a developing nation where many face a stark choice between following regulations or feeding their families.

Volunteer Chit Oo, 34, has been living and working at the centre since October, giving food parcels to quarantined patients from worried relatives.

"We treat them like they're our family because we know they're alone," he said.

"And the centre and other volunteers have become a second family for me too," he added, admitting he does miss his mum's cooking.

Myanmar has signed a deal with neighbouring India for a first batch of vaccines, while China's foreign minister was expected to bring a planeload of Chinese-made vaccines in the coming days.