Good salaries are keeping Filipinos in military-run Myanmar despite an exponential uptick in coronavirus infections that have swamped hospitals, the Philippine envoy there said on Thursday.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has raised Alert Level 4 over Myanmar, which means "we want all Filipinos to evacuate back to the Philippines," said Ambassador Eduardo Kapunan Jr.
Authorities have scheduled a repatriation flight on Aug. 3 and are organizing 2 more. But out of some 500 Filipinos in Myanmar, only about 160 registered for the repatriation, he said.
"May nakikita kaming balanse na parang natatakot pang bumalik sa Pilipinas o nagdadalawang-isip. Ang kadahilanan po is maganda ang kanilang trabaho sa Myanmar, maganda ang kanilang suweldo," Kapunan said in a televised press briefing.
(We are seeing that the remaining balance of Filipinos appear to be scared or have doubts about returning to the Philippines. The reason is they have good jobs and salaries in Myanmar.)
"Pagdating sa Pilipinas, baka wala silang trabaho, so makikipagsapalaran na lang sila sa Myanmar. Iyon ang mga naririnig naming balita-balita."
(When they go back to the Philippines, they might not have jobs, so they take a chance in Myanmar. Those are the reports we are getting.)
Two Filipinos have succumbed to COVID-19 in Myanmar, said Kapunan. Only one of the fatalities was able to secure a hospital room, as coronavirus infections overwhelmed the health care system, he said.
Some health workers have caught COVID-19 or were arrested for dissent against the military junta. Meanwhile, the country's oxygen supply, which helps COVID-19 sufferers breathe, is "almost zero," Kapunan said.
"May mga report pa nga ngayon na ang nakakatanggap lang ng oxygen ay ‘yong mga military hospitals," he said, quoting information from the United Nations.
(There are reports that only military hospitals are getting oxygen supply.)
Myanmar bars the repatriation of remains out of fear this could cause further spread of the novel coronavirus, said the ambassador.
But he said Philippine authorities are negotiating with their Myanmar counterparts to bring home the remains of the 2 Filipinos who died of COVID-19.
"Ang amin pong pinarating sa mga Pilipino, mabuti pang umuwi kayo ngayon habang hindi pa nadideklara ng WHO (World Health Organization) na ang Myanmar masyadong malala na dahil ang aabutan sa Pilipinas na quarantine procedures might be more stringent than the normal," Kapunan said.
(What we relayed to Filipinos is it's better for you to go home while the WHO has not yet declared that the situation in Myanmar has worsened because by then, the quarantine procedures when you get back to the Philippines might be more stringent than the normal.)
The United Nations said in a report on Monday it was stepping up efforts to combat an "alarming spike" in COVID-19 cases and expected Myanmar to receive enough vaccines via the COVAX facility this year for 20 percent of the population.
Myanmar registered a record 281 COVID-19 deaths on Monday and 5,189 new infections, state-run MRTV Television reported, citing health ministry figures.
But medics and funeral services say the real toll is much higher than the military government's figures and crematoriums are overloaded.
Illustrating the extent of the spread of the virus, China on Tuesday reported its highest daily tally of new infections since January, mostly linked to Chinese nationals returning to Yunnan province from Myanmar.
Zaw Wai Soe, health minister of the National Unity Government, which was set up as a shadow government by opponents of army rule, was quoted by the US-funded Radio Free Asia website as saying that up to 400,000 lives could be lost if swift action was not taken to slow infections.
The junta's critics also say lives have been lost because of its restrictions on some private oxygen suppliers in the name of stopping hoarding.
– With a report from Reuters