Lao Prisoners Who Feared COVID-19 Infection Recaptured After Brief Jailbreak

The group of around 20 say they feared the spread of COVID-19 in their prison in Savannakhet Province, where two infected prisoners recently died.
Lao Prisoners Who Feared COVID-19 Infection Recaptured After Brief Jailbreak A frame grab from a video shot by a citizen journalist of the street outside the Savannakhet provincial prison after the reported escape attempt by about 20 inmates in the early morning of Aug. 29, 2021.

A group of about 20 prisoners escaped on Sunday from a provincial prison in southern Laos out of fear they would become infected with COVID-19 behind bars, but were quickly recaptured by authorities, Lao sources said.

The prisoners broke out of the Savannakhet Provincial Detention Center at 1:00 a.m., but pursuing guards fired warning shots, and all escapees were back in custody around 40 minutes later, a provincial administrative official said Tuesday.

“The situation is now under control,” the official told RFA’s Lao Service.

“They said they were afraid of becoming infected with COVID-19 in the prison because two inmates had recently died from the virus,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The prison is too crowded,” he said, adding, “It has a total of 1,500 inmates, and about 700 of them are infected now. The prison has become a makeshift hospital.”

The prisoners trying to escape were serving long sentences and knew when security at the prison would be light and where and how to escape, the official said.

Also speaking to RFA, a resident of the provincial capital Kaysone Phomivanh City who lives near the prison said he heard gunshots fired at around 1:00 a.m.

“I didn’t go out to see what had happened, but later in the morning I heard people say that a score of prisoners had escaped. They must have been afraid of becoming infected with COVID-19, and that’s why they tried to get away,” he said.

A member of Savannakhet’s Taskforce for COVID-19 Control and Prevention announced on Monday that two inmates at the prison had recently died—the first, 35 years old, dying on Aug. 24 and the other, aged 25, dying on Sunday.

“The situation in the jail is OK now, though,” an official of the province’s Health Department said. “The authorities are separating the infected from those who are healthy, and the infected are staying at a makeshift hospital inside the prison while those who are seriously ill are being sent to a hospital outside.”

Brought in by prison guard

COVID-19 was first brought into the prison by an infected guard, Lingthong Sentavanh—Deputy Governor of Savannakhet Province—told a press conference on Aug. 23, saying that 129 cases of infection were then recorded at the prison from August 17 to August. 23.

“At first, a prison security guard contracted COVID-19 outside the prison, and he must have then transferred the virus to the prisoners.”

“The Provincial Taskforce for COVID-19 Control and Prevention built a treatment facility inside the prison right away and then separated the infected from the rest of the prisoners,” he said.

Cases of infection continue to climb in Laos, with Soutsavath Soutthanylaxay—Deputy Director General of the Communicable Disease Control Department—telling a press conference on Tuesday that 0f 3,521 samples recently tested, 199 had tested positive.

“Among these cases, 64 were locally infected, with the rest imported [from Thailand]. Up to 68 are from Savannakhet Province,” he said.

A total of 15,015 cases of COVID-19 infection have been recorded in Laos as of Tuesday, with a death toll of 14, according to government figures. Around 1.7 million Lao residents have now been fully vaccinated, and 2.5 million partially vaccinated, out of a total population of 7 million.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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