Karen Health Officials Vow to Continue its COVID-19 Responses, Despite Military Council Objections

The Karen National Union (KNU) health officials say they will continue to work on preventing the spread of Covid-19 disease, despite objections by the military junta.

The Karen Department of Health and Welfare, a KNU department providing primary healthcare to Karen communities, has recently stepped up its responses to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 by setting up screening points and enforcing temporary lockdowns in at-risk areas in Karen State.

The KDHW public health initiative was met with objections from the Karen State military administrative council. On July 13, Colonel Myo Min Naung, a member of the Karen State’s military council, on behalf of the State Chairperson, sent an objection letter to the KNU liaison office. The letter objected to the 14-day closure of roads accessing villages and entrance to Kawkareik Town and the setting up of KNU approved Covid-19 screening points.

Padoh Saw Diamond Khin, head of the Karen Department of Health and Welfare, said the Covid-19 epidemic is classified as a national security issue and the KNU Central Committee will continue its prevention measures necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

Speaking to Karen News, Padoh Saw Diamond Khin said.

“We have issued instructions to continue working on the prevention of the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic. We are protecting our people. We have to keep working and screening and tracking if we are to prevent the disease from spreading through our communities.”

The State military council’s letter accused KNU officials of not complying with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and said the KNU is interfering with government administrative works by conducting health screening.

Despite the military’s accusations and objections, Padoh Saw Diamond Khin said the KNU’s current Covid-19 screening stations will remain and will continue to protect Karen people.

A villager in Kawkareik spoke out in support of the KNU’s actions and said that the closure was an important strategy to help prevent the spread of the disease.

“The number of Covid-19 infections has been increasing in Kawkareik. The KNU’s Health Department closure of Kawkareik-Kyaikdon road was done at the right time. If the roads are not closed, it will be difficult to control the epidemic. Currently, because of the pandemic, people are afraid to travel and there are some transportation difficulties, but we fully understand the measures the KNU has taken during this epidemic situation.”

The KNU reported that on July 17, the military junta’s militia – the Border Guard Force (BGF) Battalion 1014 – destroyed KNU Covid-19 screening points at Baw The Byu village in Hpa-An township of Doo Tha Htu district.

While Covid-19 infections have increased, the military junta has increased their checkpoints and said they will do screenings in area in Karen state. Villagers told Karen News the Burma Army soldiers and its militia, may have set up checkpoints, but they are not for health screening. Villagers said the junta’s soldiers are inspecting travelers and vehicles, but are also checking mobile phones and demanding money.

In response to KNU-controlled areas being affected by the third wave of Covid-19, the KNU’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Committee has issued guidelines for Covid-19 prevention measures and said it intends to increase its prevention efforts.

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