Prisons, Migrant Workers Key Fronts in Battle Against COVID-19 in Cambodia, Laos

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Jul 20, 2021, 11:33:45 PM (6 days ago) Jul 20
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Prisons, Migrant Workers Key Fronts in Battle Against COVID-19 in Cambodia, Laos

The two Southeast Asian nations are grappling with rising numbers of confirmed virus cases.
2021-07-20 RFA
Prisons, Migrant Workers Key Fronts in Battle Against COVID-19 in Cambodia, LaosA woman receives China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a pagoda in southeastern Cambodia's Kandal province, June 10, 2021, as part of the government's campaign to halt the rising number of cases of the virus.
AFP

The number of people infected with the coronavirus in Cambodia reached nearly 70,000 on Tuesday with 825 new confirmed cases of the contagious respiratory virus and 21 deaths, according to the health ministry.

The Southeast Asian nation of 16.5 million people has recorded 68,796 total cases since the pandemic began with nearly 1,150 total deaths, the ministry reported.

The provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Prey Veng, Siem Reap, and Battambang each registered 60 to 100 new cases daily, it said.

So far, Cambodia has vaccinated more than 6 million of the 10 million people who are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

One inmate has died and other prisoners and guards have been infected from a virus outbreak in Banteay Meanchey Prison in the province of the same name, prompting a renewed call from NGOs for measures to prevent further infections and reduce crowding in cells.

RFA could not reach Nuth Savna, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons on Tuesday, but he told independent radio broadcaster VOD that one prisoner among the roughly 1,600 inmates had died. He declined to provide information on the number of inmates infected with the virus.

Chham Sophoan, a former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official in Banteay Meanchey province, criticized prison officials for not disclosing information about the outbreak and urged them to prevent more fatalities and infections.

“COVID-19 is very dangerous,” he said. “The prison should release some prisoners to avoid overcrowded cells.”

Sum Chankea, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) in Banteay Meanchey province, said a prison official told him that 30 inmates and 10 guards had been confirmed positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“The prison should consider reducing their sentences or releasing them early,” he said, also cautioning correctional officials to avoid the temptation of demanding bribes in exchange for releasing prisoners.

There are about 39,000 prisoners in Cambodia, and 10 correctional facilities have experienced coronavirus outbreaks.

In all, at least four prisoners are reported to have died from the virus, though prison officials have refused to elaborate upon their cases.

Limited facilities in Laos

Neighboring Laos also witnessed rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the 170 new cases on Tuesday marking the highest daily figure recorded in since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the health ministry. The number of fatalities remained at five, with a total of 3,710 confirmed cases.

“We tested 1,845 people and found that 170 of them were positive with COVID-19,” Dr. Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, director general of the Department of Communicable Diseases Control, told press conference on Tuesday.

All the new infections were detected in migrant workers returning to Laos from Thailand, where the virus is spreading quickly, according to the National Taskforce for COVID-19 Prevention and Control.

Five provinces have reported the highest numbers of new cases with 98 in Savannakhet, 38 in Champassak, 20 in Salavan, 10 in Vientiane, and four in Khammouane, he said.

An average of 200 Lao workers a day return from Thailand and are kept in quarantine centers to ensure they are not carrying or infected with the coronavirus, said an official from Savannakhet province, who requested anonymity to be able to speak openly.

At least 15 percent of the returnees have tested positive for COVID-19, while severe outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant have been reported in neighboring countries, according to a report in the state-run Vientiane Times.

There are 48 quarantine centers throughout the country accommodating more than 6,000 people.

“Our facilities are limited,” said Dr. Viengsy Souphakdy, director general of the Health Department of Champassak province. “This morning, more than 100 Lao workers came through the border checkpoint from Thailand. We’re looking for more places to treat them and to quarantine them at least for 14 days.”

So far, about 1,050,000 Laotians have been fully vaccinated and 680,000 partially vaccinated in the mountainous, landlocked nation of 7.4 million people. The government wants 50 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of the year.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane had more than 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine delivered to Laos.

In the meantime, the government has extended the partial lockdown for another 15 days until Aug. 3 to try to contain the current outbreak, with the national COVID-19 task force urging people to maintain social distancing, wear protective face masks, and comply with government guidelines.

Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh has called for people to strictly comply with COVID-19 control measures to contain the virus, despite a decrease in the number of new community-acquired cases, the Vientiane Times reported.

“Laos is still at a high risk of a major outbreak of the virus due to the spike in infections reported in neighboring countries,” he was quoted as saying. “We should not be careless, but need to support the government’s battle against the virus and prevent any new community outbreaks.”

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