Nearly 20 guards and inmates at the Siem Reap Provincial Prison have contracted Covid-19 and been placed in isolation, officials said.
Cases have now been announced in at least nine of the country’s 28 overcrowded prisons, as the Justice Ministry discusses measures to reduce inmate numbers by releasing those close to the end of their sentences. Ministry spokesperson Kim Santepheap said on Monday that Justice Minister Keut Rith was considering the decision.
Siem Reap provincial administration spokesperson Ly Samreth said the cases in the provincial prison were found on Sunday after prison director Phean Chhorvan tested positive the day prior.
Three guards and 15 inmates who tested positive were being isolated, he said.
Interior Ministry prisons department spokesperson Nuth Savna said testing was ongoing, but he did not have the number of further positive cases.
He also declined to say how many prisons were dealing with Covid-19.
“I’ve already informed that this information is security-sensitive information, so I can’t tell the number,” Savna said.
He added that most cases seemed to be mild. “It’s like a cold — runny noses, and seems to have a high temperature,” Savna said.
“We’re trying our best, and my officials have no time off and can’t go home to meet their families like other officials,” he said.
Most patients were treated at the prisons, with serious cases sent to hospitals, he said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said state institutions should address the overcrowding in prisons as soon as possible to reduce Covid-19 transmission.
“It’s now starting to pass from one prison to another,” he said. “So there needs to be a push for measures or means to release on bail as soon as possible.”
The first prison Covid-19 case was announced in Preah Sihanouk. Despite initial denials, further cases were confirmed in Phnom Penh’s three prisons. Cases have since been announced in Kandal, Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Speu, where a 66-year-old woman died from the disease.
Takeo provincial administration director Meas Uy said the Takeo Provincial Prison had also had 37 Covid-19 cases as of Thursday, and most were being treated on-site.
Additional reporting by Ouch Sony
Updated at 6:50 p.m. with comment from Meas Uy.