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UN condemns killing of WHO staffer in Myanmar transporting COVID-19 samples

Staff check customers’ temperatures at a shopping mall entrance in Yangon, Myanmar.
Man Aihua
Staff check customers’ temperatures at a shopping mall entrance in Yangon, Myanmar.

UN condemns killing of WHO staffer in Myanmar transporting COVID-19 samples

Peace and Security

A World Health Organization (WHO) worker has been killed while driving a vehicle carrying COVID-19 samples in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, the United Nations country office confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. 

“The United Nations is deeply saddened to confirm that Mr Pyae Sone Win Maung…has died after being wounded in a security incident in Minbya Township in Rakhine state, on the evening of Monday 20thApril 2020”, the statement read

The WHO driver was en route in a clearly-marked UN vehicle, from Sittwe to Yangon, transporting COVID-19 surveillance samples in support of the Ministry of Health and Sports, the statement added, noting that further information is being sought on the circumstances surrounding his death. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the 20 April attack, during which a Government official was also seriously wounded.  He expressed his condolences to the family of the deceased and wished a swift recovery to the injured, calling for a full and transparent investigation into the incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. 

The attack comes after UN human rights experts voiced grave concern in February over the killing and displacement of civilians in north-west Myanmar during intensified conflict between the military and an armed group, the Arakan Army.

UNHCR warning over monsoon, COVID-19 threat

Children wash their hands with soap at a UNICEF-supported learning centre in a Rohingya refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

The UN refugee agency (UNICEF) warned on Tuesday of delays to annual monsoon preparations in Bangladesh, where host communities and refugees in Cox’s Bazar – where population density is 1.5 times higher than in New York City – are considered to be most at risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preparations have been impacted by the suspension of disaster risk reduction efforts, notably improvements to drainage systems and slope stabilization, UNHCR spokesperson, Andrej Mahecic, explained.

Similarly, the relocation of refugees living in areas at high risk of flooding and landslide has been slowed. Supply delivery has also been challenging, as the COVID-19 lockdown has impacted road transport.

While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the agency spokesperson said the Government was working with UNHCR and its partners to address the risks of a potential outbreak in the camps and has ensured the inclusion of Rohingya refugees in its national response.

Preparations for COVID-19

The refugee agency and partners have begun construction of isolation and treatment facilities, Mr. Mahecic said, with the goal of ensuring the availability of 1,900 beds to serve both refugees and host communities in the District in the coming weeks. Information-sharing has been expanded through a network of more than 2,000 community volunteers, religious leaders and humanitarian workers.

“While it is vital to prioritize public health-related preparations in the camps at this time, cyclone and monsoon preparedness activities must also continue”, he added.

Personal protective equipment is desperately needed, given the magnitude of the increased demands, he continued. The large-scale procurement and distribution of this equipment is vital to ensure that COVID-19 does not take hold and spread rapidly.

The 2020 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis is seeking $877 million to meet the most critical needs before the COVID-19 pandemic began. To date, it is only 16 per cent funded.

“We must make every effort to ensure that the possible spread of the virus and the coming monsoon season do not exacerbate the already highly vulnerable situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh”, said Mr. Mahecic. UNHCR is urging the international community to stand in solidarity with refugees and internally displaced persons to avert the bleak potential of both a natural and public health disaster, striking the world’s largest refugee camp.