Myanmar’s former military leader, who ruled the country with an iron fist for almost 20 years, has been admitted to hospital in Naypyidaw after testing positive for COVID-19,  even as its citizens with the virus are left to look after themselves in crowded health facilities across the country amid a new surge in cases.

Local media reported the news of his admission on Friday.

Than Shwe, 88, and his wife, Kyaing Kyaing, have been warded at the 1,000-bed military-owned hospital in Thaik Chaung in the capital for several days as a precaution, according to The Irrawaddy news website.

The Associated Press news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying that the two have tested positive for COVID-19, although the severity of their illness was not known.

But the Irrawaddy said the couple were “in good health and are believed to have received their inoculations” as the country’s vaccine programme gives priority to people 65 and above.

A government official who asked not to named, also told the Reuters news agency that Than Shwe was in a stable condition in hospital.

As Myanmar’s military leader from 1992 until 2011, Than Shwe crushed dissent and kept the country isolated from the world.

But, he later began a slow transition to civilian rule that came to an abrupt halt in February when his protege, army chief Min Aung Hlaing, seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi and the elected government.

News of the former military general’s admission to hospital comes as the country continues to struggle with a new wave of COVID-19 cases believed to be driven by the Delta variant.

Pandemic response crippled

The country’s response to the pandemic has been left crippled after many health workers stopped work in protest against the coup. There have also been reports of security forces detaining medical workers, or stopping them from going to hospitals.

An average of nearly 300 people a day have died in recent days, according to official figures that medics believe are severe underestimates.

According to the latest reports, at least 341,000 people have been confirmed with COVID-19 and almost 12,500 have died.

News reports have described the situation in many hospitals in the country as “like hell”.

Among those who have died recently are Dr Maung Maung Nyein Tun, a 45-year-old doctor, who was detained for taking part in the civil disobedience movement against military rule, according to a Myanmar Now news agency report.

The doctor reportedly tested positive for the virus while being detained, along with his wife, Dr Swe Zin Oo, at the Mandalay Palace interrogation centre in mid-July.

But for two weeks, police continued to detain him until his condition worsened. He died at the Mandalay General Hospital on Sunday.

Nyan Win, a senior political figure from overthrown civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, also died of COVID-19 last month while in detention.

The military coup has triggered almost daily protests and fighting between the army and hastily formed civilian armed groups.

More than 900 people have been killed in the military crackdown on opposition to its coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors the situation in Myanmar.

On Friday, there were reports of strikes and protests across the country including in Mandalay and in Mya Taung township.





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