Covid-19 cases spike in Myanmar’s prisons

Prisons in Myanmar are fast turning into new Covid-19 hotspots as many prisoners have tested positive in the past few days. The situation inside the prisons turned grim and chaotic since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.

The coronavirus crisis is becoming out of control under the military junta, with marginalised populations suffering most, especially in the country’s prisons, the Human Rights Watch Watch(HRW) reports.

The surge in infections in Myanmar’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons were observed after the coup. Many people have been arrested for politically motivated reasons.

The daily infection number is estimated at about 4,000 in the southeastern Asian nation, according to local authorities, however, the real figures are expected to be much higher due lack of testing and military junta’s non-transparency.

On August 8, prisoners protested the death of a pro-democracy activist in custody from the coronavirus inside Mandalay’s Obo prison.

Maung Maung Nyein Tun, a 45-year-old doctor, was detained on June 13 for participating in the civil disobedience movement. Despite showing severe symptoms of Covid-19, he was held in a military interrogation center, then transferred to Obo prison before he died at Mandalay hospital.

Another protest was held at Yangon’s Insein prison because of the worsening coronavirus crisis there and the death of Nyan Win, 79, a prominent National League for Democracy member, who was also infected by the virus.

As of August 9, 12 prisoners had died from Covid-19 at Insein prison where 600 out of 9000 prisoners reportedly received the vaccine against the pandemic.

The officials of several prisons have ordered lockdowns as the cases spike among inmates. Just a few prisoners could be tested or receive adequate medical treatments.

Released detainees have told the HRW that “few measures are taken to stop the spread of the virus, that masks are insufficient, and sanitary conditions are abysmal.”

There are no measures to protect people at higher risks such as older prisoners or those having chronic diseases.

In Myanmar, there are 46 prisons and 50 labour camps to hold at least 90,000 inmates despite having a capacity of 66,000.