Prisons Turn to Soap, Alcohol Sprays as Social Distancing Not Feasible

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A prisons official acknowledged that social distancing was impossible in the country’s overcrowded cells, but said officers were maintaining hygiene, checking prisoners for fevers and quarantining new arrivals for two weeks as Covid-19 prevention measures.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng this week called for vigilance to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to prisons amid the country’s worst outbreak to date.

Cambodia currently has more than 800 active coronavirus cases as part of the “February 20” cluster, and has recorded nine deaths of positive patients as of Thursday.

Nuth Savna, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s prisons department, said the country’s prisoners could not maintain social distancing due to overcrowding.

“Keeping distance — we can only do that between officials and detainees, officials and officials,” Savna said. “For detainees, we cannot do so because of the situation where our locations are cramped.”

Nevertheless, prisons had introduced regular sanitation measures and implemented health protocols such as the distribution of masks and soap, spraying alcohol at checkpoints, checking the temperatures of both detainees and guards, and conducting two-week quarantine for new detainees to monitor their health before being placed in a shared room, Savna said.

“And if there is any suspicion, such as a fever, cough or sore throat, we contact the referral hospital immediately and the city or provincial health department immediately,” he said.

Muong Sony, president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, who has a younger brother in Prey Sar Prison, said he supported the Interior Ministry trying to keep the prisons safe from Covid-19, but suggested that corruption could prevent strict measures from being implemented.

In the past, people from outside had been allowed to see and stay with detainees if they paid off prison guards, Sony alleged.

“Our officials from the lower to the upper levels of the prisons must participate effectively to prevent corruption,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for human rights group Licadho, said prison overcrowding was a serious health risk.

“The important thing is that we see unfairness for general detainees. We’ve seen that some okhna or some wealthy or powerful people who are [sentenced to] prison are often in the hospital instead of prison,” he said.

Kith Theang, the brother of tycoon Kith Meng, was jailed on drug charges but officials have repeatedly said he is not in a cell but in hospital.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Licadho issued a joint statement in December expressing concerns over the health of prisoners amid Covid-19, saying that in some prisons inmates have less than 1 square meter of space each.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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