Cambodian Prisons See New Spread of COVID-19, While Cases Climb in Vietnam and Laos

Rights groups call for early releases of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences to help slow the spread of the disease.
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Cambodian Prisons See New Spread of COVID-19,  While Cases Climb in Vietnam and Laos A guard stands outside the Kandal provincial prison in Cambodia in a file photo.

The latest in a series of COVID-19 outbreaks in Cambodia’s detention centers has infected more than 100 inmates and three guards in Kandal province, officials said Wednesday, prompting calls for authorities to reduce prison overcrowding in a bid to prevent further spread of the disease.

Kandal provincial deputy governor Nouv Peng Chandara told local newspapers that authorities are working to trace the source of the infections, but that no plan has been made to evacuate prisoners.

Prisons now require a 20-day quarantine period and three negative COVID tests before incoming prisoners can be brought into the general prison population, General Prison Department spokesperson Nuth Savana told RFA on Wednesday.

“[Quarantines] will also be required for prisoners who are taken to hospitals or court trials, with inmates kept isolated from others for 20 days after their return,” Nuth Savana said.

Fifty cases of COVID infection have already been reported in Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Sar Prison, Cambodian sources say.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Chan Tun—father of jailed opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist Tun Nimol—called on the courts to release his son and other political prisoners held at Prey Sar to guard them from infection. He said that his son’s continued incarceration during the pandemic could amount to a “death sentence.”

“Our country doesn’t have a death penalty, and I don’t know who will be responsible for protecting my son’s life if he is still detained during this outbreak,” Chan Tun said.

Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian rights group Licadho said more outbreaks may still occur in the country’s overcrowded prisons, and called on the Prison Department to release some prisoners serving shorter sentences.

“We need to speed up these releases,” he said, adding, “Some sentences could be suspended or even ended now for prisoners who have almost served their full time.”

'Government must move faster'

“The government needs to move much faster if they want to prevent what might become an uncontrollable outbreak in the prisons,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson in a joint statement with rights group Amnesty International on May 24.

Responding to positive cases of infection in the prisons with more testing and vaccinations “is simply not enough,” Robertson said. “Everyone saw a potential outbreak coming, and measures to prevent or mitigate its impact on prisoners should have been implemented long ago by the Cambodian government.”

On May 8, the Department of Prisons reported that 34 prisoners held in Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prison had tested positive for COVID-19, with hundreds of other prisoners in the facility testing positive since then, Robertson said.

Authorities later transferred 146 women detainees and 10 children from Preah Sihanouk to the Kampot Provincial Prison, Robertson said, adding that cases of infection in the Phnom Penh Jail in Cambodia’s capital are now believed to number in the hundreds.

To date, a total of 190 COVID-19 patients have died in Cambodia, with 26,989 infections reported, the Ministry of Health said on May 26.

Vietnam sees 45th COVID death

Vietnam on Wednesday reported its 45th COVID-19 death, the 10th death recorded since the country’s fourth outbreak began on April 27, the Ministry of Health said.

The patient, a 67-year-old woman from northern Vietnam’s Bac Ninh province described as suffering from underlying conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes was hospitalized on May 11 and died late on May 25.

A total of 3,027 cases of local transmission have now been reported in Vietnam since April 27, with the northern province of Bac Giang leading the list with 1,520 cases and Bac Ninh coming in second with 624 cases.

Both provinces will be given 150,000 doses of vaccine each and helped to complete mass vaccination campaigns within one or two weeks, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said following an online meeting with provincial leaders and representatives from Vietnam’s National Steering Committee on COVID Prevention and Control.

On Wednesday, eight pilot enterprises in four industrial parks in Bac Giang that had closed on May 18 were allowed to reopen, though they are now operating at limited capacity and under restrictions.

By May 25, Vietnam more than one million health workers, police officers, and military personnel had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, 28,500 of whom had also received their second and final dose, according to official figures.

Laos sees more lockdowns

In Laos, the total number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 1,883, with 620 people being treated at hospitals around the country, according to Sisavath Soutthanylaxay—Deputy Director General of the Communicable Disease Control Department of the Lao Ministry of Health.

Only five new cases were reported on Wednesday, but areas under lockdown called “red zones” continued to expand, with 28 villages—up from an initial five—now locked down in the capital Vientiane.

Areas of Oudomxay province are also locking down after seven new cases were recently reported there, official sources said.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, a member of the Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Oudomxay said, “Yesterday, seven people were tested positive for COVID-19, so today the entire town of Xay—the capital of the province—is under lockdown.”

“No traveling in or out is allowed, and police have closed all the roads leading to and from the town,” RFA’s source said, adding that three provincial villages have also been closed.

“Our village is under lockdown,” a resident in one village confirmed. “No one is going in or out except to buy groceries or go to the hospital.”

More workers laid off

At least 50,000 workers have been laid off in Laos during the country’s second outbreak of cases beginning in early April, with up to 10,000 handed pink slips at 11 garment factories and two steel plants in the capital Vientiane alone, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

“Those who are not members of the Social Security Fund will not be eligible for unemployment benefits,” the official added, referring to a national plan paid into by participants but often not joined by workers in small businesses like restaurants and hotels.

“I’ve been laid off for about a year now and am not receiving any assistance,” one former worker at a small factory in Vientiane told RFA on Wednesday. “My family is living on savings, but these are about to run out because food prices are rising too,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a hotel owner in the capital confirmed that hotels receive no government help.

“The government only suspends tax payments for three months, and our hotel then pays salaries to laid-off workers for three months. After that, they’re on their own,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer, Vietnamese, and Lao Services. Translated by Samean Yun, Anna Vu, and Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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