COVID response goes underground in Myanmar

In Myanmar, efforts to get people life-saving oxygen have gone underground.

The junta-ruled country is facing its worst surge in COVID-19 infections - something perhaps shown in the queues of people waiting to refill cylinders in second city Mandalay in the past week.

The health system has also largely collapsed since a February 1 coup and that's why people like 21-year-old Phoe Thar have stepped up.

He's awake by dawn each day collecting oxygen cylinders from the homes of coronavirus sufferers.

He and fellow volunteers then line up the tanks outside charities for refilling.

They're part of grassroots efforts, funded by donors via social media, that are bypassing the authorities to save lives.

Speaking by phone, Phoe Thar said it's a huge challenge - as the number of people who need oxygen is massive.

Myanmar health ministry figures showed deaths from COVID-19 at a record 233 on Saturday (July 17).

The total official death toll has risen more than 40 percent already this month to 4,769.

Medics and funeral services say the real numbers are much higher and that crematoriums are overloaded.

Last week a junta spokesman said there were difficulties in fighting the outbreak and urged people to cooperate with the government.

But critics say lives are being lost because of restrictions the junta has imposed on some private oxygen suppliers - something it claims to be doing to prevent hoarding.

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