Burmese army deserters and what we know (and don’t) about Covid-19

Plus, the eccentric missionary behind Thailand’s first-ever newspaper, the high stakes of disrupted schooling in Laos and the Olympic dreams of Vietnam’s young bobsled team

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May 29, 2021
Burmese army deserters and what we know (and don’t) about Covid-19

Even as we’ve been seeing the slow return to a semblance of normalcy here in Phnom Penh, Covid-19 continues to dominate the public attention. Most outbreak-related health restrictions have been lifted in recent weeks as the state’s ongoing vaccination campaign continues to roll out inoculations at a steady clip in the capital metro. The only issue with this is the rising caseload of new infections, which has already edged back into the hundreds, about where we were at the beginning of last month’s three-week lockdown period.

That said, the fast pace of the vaccination campaign does seem to be setting Cambodia apart from its neighbors in Thailand, Vietnam where the Mekong regional outbreak has continued to spread despite increasing restrictions on public life. Thai officials have struggled to get their own mass inoculation drive off the ground amidst sourcing issues for the serum. Meanwhile, Vietnam has also made a slow start to its vaccination drive, reporting by May 25 approximately 28,500 fully inoculated medical and security personnel and 1 million who had received at least one of two doses. 

Away from the Mekong, by the start of this year, Myanmar’s health officials had made real headway in their fight to contain Covid-19 amidst a viral outbreak that killed more than 3,000 people. The coup has derailed that effort, and as health experts are without vital data, they’re beginning to presume a simmering outbreak is spreading untracked and unimpeded. I spoke to the doctors working to pin down the virus — this is what they told me.

Not everyone within the Myanmar armed forces is on-board with the chaotic political situation caused by military leaders. As the new junta consolidates its power through brutal crackdowns, some of its foot soldiers are no longer willing to carry out its orders. Globe reporter Allegra Mendelson teamed up with journalist Kyaw Hsan Hlaing to speak with military defectors and others in Myanmar to learn just how much dissent is spreading among the ranks of the Burmese military.

Looking away from Myanmar and back into history, we can see that Thailand’s first newspaper didn’t last long nor make many friends. In fact, says one historian, the eccentric American missionary doctor who founded the publication was “despised” among the Siamese nobles who made up his core readership. Nevertheless, The Bangkok Recorder left a profound legacy not just on the kingdom’s press world but also in its political ethos. Globe reporter Wanpen Pajai has more on this fascinating piece of Thai history.

Switching tracks and heading north, the Laotian public education system has long struggled to build even basic levels of literacy and math skills among its youngest students. The government has been making a major push to overhaul the system with a new curriculum supported by innovative new measures introduced by non-governmental organisations. As Covid-19 stalls in-person education, writer Christine Redmond tells us what steps are being taken to keep kids learning through crisis. Our latest partner piece with educational NGO Aide et Action.

Finally, as we head back down the Mekong, we have a pair of very different stories out of Vietnam. Bobsleds are a rare sight in this tropical country, but that hasn’t stopped Nguyễn Dân An from setting his sights on winter Olympic glory in the sport. Globe reporter Govi Snell spoke with An and members of his crew of upstart bobsledders to see if they’re on-track to make the 2022 Olympic games.

One billion trees planted by 2025 to fight deforestation and climate change. It’s a bold and ambitious goal put forth by the Vietnamese government, with almost no concrete plans to back it up. Reporter Mike Tatarski, editor in chief of the publication Saigoneer, takes us for a walk in the woods in this special crossover piece to learn more about this dream of mass reforestation.

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