Covid-19 outbreaks in Myanmar jails sow alarm

Many prisoners in Insein jail became sick and some died earlier during the pandemic.
Many prisoners in Insein jail became sick and some died earlier during the pandemic.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (REUTERS) - Forty prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in Myanmar's main jail where some of the thousands of anti-coup protesters who have been arrested by the junta are being held, BBC Burmese language news reported on Thursday (July 8), citing a prison official.

A spokesman for Insein jail in Yangon did not answer calls from Reuters seeking comment on the report.

The authorities at the colonial-era jail have stopped sending prisoners to attend court hearings either at a special facility inside the jail or to courts in the city, Mr Zayar Lwin, an activist and former political prisoner who was freed from Insein in April, told Reuters.

The BBC report said the authorities at jails in other parts of the country, including in Myaungmya and Taungoo, were also taking action to contain the spread of the virus.

The South-east Asian nation is in the midst of its most serious wave of infections to date, and efforts to manage the crisis have been hampered as the country descended into chaos after the military overthrew a democratically elected civilian government on Feb 1.

Aside from daily protests against the junta in towns and cities, there have been clashes between the army and people's militias in several parts of the country.

Many prisoners in Insein jail became sick and some died earlier during the pandemic, but there was little Covid-19 testing for prisoners, Mr Zaya Lwin said.

"I don't know about whether they are now testing the prisoners who are inside or not," he said.

In a bid to contain the virus, stay-at-home orders have been issued for parts of Yangon as well in Chin state and in the Sagaing region, the state Myanmar News Agency reported.

Myanmar recorded 3,947 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up sharply from an average daily case number of around 60 in late May and bringing total infections to 175,923, according to health ministry data. The death toll rose by 57 to 3,570.

Many of the new infections have been from Chin state near the border with India, with the local Chin World news agency reporting 500 people had died of Covid-19 in a month.

Some health experts say Myanmar's real rate of infection is likely to be far higher, given a collapse in testing since the coup and with health workers joining a so-called civil disobedience movement to protest against the ousting of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.