New inmates arriving to Banteay Meanchey and Svay Rieng provincial prisons tested positive for Covid-19 — in the latter case, after being in contact with nearly 50 people — with the disease now having spread to at least seven prisons.
However, Interior Ministry prisons department Nuth Savna would not give the number of Covid-19 cases at the five other prisons previously found with Covid-19: Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar and PJ, and the provincial prisons of Kampong Speu, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk.
“Frankly, for all of those places, we are burning our hands and legs in taking care of them and monitoring their health, and, most importantly, we’ve locked down so it is not completely normal, but it is out of danger. At first we were worried, now we can control the situation,” Savna said.
The prisons department has refused to disclose details of the outbreaks in recent weeks, and the U.N. system — which includes the World Health Organization — also said it did not have specific information, and called for greater transparency.
A Kandal official said two weeks ago the Kandal prison had more than 100 cases, a Kampong Speu official said last week it also had more than 100 cases, and Preah Sihanouk announced about a month ago that it found 34 cases. Human rights groups have suggested there are “hundreds” of cases in PJ.
At least one prisoner, in Kampong Speu, has died from Covid-19.
Earlier this month, Savna would not say how many of the country’s prisons had Covid-19. On Friday, he said two arriving inmates at Banteay Meanchey and Svay Rieng had tested positive.
Savna said the Banteay Meanchey patient had not had contact with other inmates, but the Svay Rieng case had about 50 direct and indirects contacts in the prison.
“The infected people are new arrivals. They are also prisoners but have just been taken into custody. They have Covid-19 from outside and we put them in quarantine,” he said.
Last month, prisoners were transferred from Preah Sihanouk to Kampot province due to the Preah Sihanouk outbreak.
Veth Vathna, Kampot provincial administrative chief, said that as of Thursday the Kampot prison still had no Covid-19 cases among more than 1,000 detainees.
“Now, we are sending masks, alcohol, medical equipment and rapid test kits. We send medicines to them as a precaution,” he said. “We are afraid of having an outbreak in the prison. We are very careful. If there is an outbreak in the prison, It will be difficult.”
The prison was taking various precautions, such as quarantining new arrivals, but visits were still allowed, he said.
Tbong Khmum provincial administrative chief Mao Dung also said his provincial prison was still free of Covid-19, as did Kampong Cham provincial administrative chief Khorn Pros.
Pros added that prison visits had been suspended due to the suspicion that other visitors had spread Covid-19 to other provinces’ prisons.
According to a statement by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last month, Cambodia currently has 39,000 inmates in 28 prisons. The groups and others have raised concerns over prisons overcrowding heightening the risk for Covid-19 transmission.
Kampong Speu, where the prisoner died, has been designated by the WHO as being in “stage two” transmission, alongside Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk, meaning there is localized community transmission.