1,219 more cases found in 3 prisons

1,219 more cases found in 3 prisons

Authorities stepping up testing and quarantine but overcrowding remains biggest challenge

(Bangkok Post file photo)
(Bangkok Post file photo)

The Corrections Department has found another 1,219 people infected with Covid-19, six of them in critical condition, in three prisons in Greater Bangkok.

The figure brings to nearly 5,000 the number of confirmed coronavirus cases that the public has been told about in the country’s badly overcrowded prisons.

The latest discovery came from 100% active case finding at Klong Prem Central Prison, where 510 infections were found, Bangkok Remand Prison (88) and Thonburi Remand Prison (621), according to a department briefing on Saturday.

Six of those infected with the coronavirus were “red” cases — people in critical condition — who were sent to public hospitals. The rest were in the “green” group, with mild symptoms or none.

The high number of new cases was the result of accelerated proactive testing, a policy of health authorities to facilitate “bubble and seal” efforts, the department said.

Testing capacity was also increased thanks to the support from health offices, which helped conduct and process RT-PCR tests around the clock to sort the prison population.

The 1,219 cases reported on Saturday are in addition to the 877 prison infections confirmed by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration at its official briefing earlier in the day. All told, the Corrections Department has now disclosed 4,931 infections.

The department revealed earlier this week that it had uncovered a total of 2,835 cases at Bangkok’s two main prisons — Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women’s Correctional Institution — through testing since the start of April.

It was the first time the public had been made aware of the spread of the disease in prisons. The admission came only after a high-profile former detainee — protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who is now out on bail — said she contracted the virus while in jail. Officials said her last test, on April 23, was negative and she may have become infected while outside, possibly on a trip to a court hearing.

As for precautions from now on, prison officials and staff must take Covid tests every 14 days, authorities said. They and their family members are also instructed not to enter risk areas.

Newcomers, including existing inmates who have been to courts or hospitals, will be quarantined for 21 days, with two tests done before entering and before the isolation period ends.

Other measures include reducing the number of new prisoners, teleconference court hearings and vaccinations, which are currently done on officials and staff. Inmates will be vaccinated soon, starting with the elderly.

However, sceptics have questioned the effectiveness of any preventive measures so long as the main cause of the problem — prison overcrowding — has not been addressed.

Chuvit Kamolvisit, a former businessman and politician who had been jailed three times at Bangkok Remand Prison, shared his experience on Facebook two days ago.

“In prison, not a second goes by when prisoners are more than a step away from one another. They eat together, bathe together, stay together and lie down next to one another 15 hours a day from 3pm to 6am,” he said.

According to him, a typical cell is 4x10m and as many as 60-70 people crammed into that space — two per square metre — during peak times.

The remand centre has eight zones and the second is designated as the quarantine area, which has 13 cells.

When new prisoners arrive, they have to be put in the same cell as existing quarantined ones because there was no room to further separate them.

As the overflow problem worsened, authorities had to use three cells in the first zone for the purpose.

Besides, some influential figures are allowed to roam outside the isolation area, Mr Chuwit claimed.

According to the department’s website, there were 3,238 prisoners at the Bangkok Remand Prison as of May 5 and it had a capacity to accept 2,997 more. 

There were 310,830 people in 143 prisons nationwide as of May 2. 

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