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Spike in Covid-19 cases inside Myanmar prisons

Released detainees say few measures were being taken to stop the virus inside overcrowded and unsanitary cells

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: August 19, 2021 06:33 AM GMT

Updated: August 19, 2021 06:41 AM GMT

Spike in Covid-19 cases inside Myanmar prisons
Anxious relatives and friends wait in front of Insein Prison in June for the release of those arrested since February's military coup in Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

A surge in coronavirus cases is being reported inside prisons in Myanmar where thousands are being held for political reasons, says a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Over 600 Covid-19 cases have been reported in Myanmar’s prisons,” the report said, expressing concern over the poor healthcare facilities in the country’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons.

Myanmar has witnessed an escalation of politically motivated arrests since the Feb. 1 military coup while also recording a spike in coronavirus infections.

As of Aug. 19, more than 5,700 people remain in detention out of more than 7,000 arrested by the military junta, while the death toll has passed 1,000.

Only 30 doctors and 80 nurses are employed across the entire prison system.

Prisoners held a protest inside Mandalay’s Obo Prison on Aug. 8 after the Covid-related death of Maung Maung Nyein Tun, a 45-year-old doctor who had been detained on June 13 for participating in the civil disobedience movement.

Prison authorities have apparently also not taken any special measures to protect groups at higher risk

He was initially held in a military interrogation center, then transferred to a police station before being taken to Obo Prison despite showing severe symptoms. He later died at Mandalay General Hospital.

Protests were also reported from Yangon’s Insein Prison last month due to a worsening situation and the death from Covid-19 of Nyan Win, 79, a prominent lawyer from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

As of Aug. 9, at least 12 inmates at Insein had died after being infected with the virus, according to HRW.

Local media reported that only 600 of the 9,000 prisoners at Insein Prison had received a vaccine and officials at Insein, Taungoo and Myaung Mya prisons have ordered lockdowns.

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Released detainees told HRW that few measures were being taken to stop the spread of the virus — masks are insufficient and sanitary conditions are abysmal inside the prisons.

Prison authorities have apparently also not taken any special measures to protect groups at higher risk such as older inmates and those with existing medical conditions.

“At a minimum, Myanmar’s prison authorities need to carry out widespread testing of inmates, release all prisoners who pose a little security risk, and make information on the prevalence of Covid-19 in prisons public,” the rights group said.

Myanmar’s prison system is made up of 46 prisons and 50 labor camps and houses an estimated 92,000 inmates, although the official capacity is 66,000, according to a report by Thailand-based advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The reports said Myanmar’s poor healthcare infrastructure and other public services are ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak of coronavirus among the general population, let alone in overcrowded prisons.

The junta-controlled health ministry is recording an average of 4,000 new infections daily across the country but the real figures are likely much higher due to lack of testing and little information coming from the junta.

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