Myanmar Prisons to Educate Inmates on Coronavirus, Work on Prevention

By Htet Khaung Lin 26 February 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar Prisons Department is working to raise inmates’ awareness of coronavirus (COVID-19) in prisons across the country, according to department Deputy Director U Ye Yint Naing.

“We’re educating the prisoners about coronavirus in cooperation with local health departments, not just prison doctors,” said U Ye Yint Naing.

Outbreaks can be devastating in prisons as people are concentrated in a single compound, he said, adding that the risk is especially high in prisons because they have new inmates almost every day.

“Suppose there is an outbreak in a place, then people can avoid that place. But the situation is different in prison. Once a person is infected in a prison, it is possible that all the people there will be infected, so we are doing this as a preventive measure,” U Ye Yint Naing added.

But U Bo Kyi, joint general secretary for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said it is not enough to give talks about the virus in prisons and that it is important to provide prisoners with the medical supplies and health care they need.

“How well can they really carry out health checks on new inmates? Every day, there are people who enter and leave the prison. Detainees can be infected by family members visiting them,” he said.

Prominent filmmaker and human rights activist U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who was released from Insein Prison last Friday, said he saw no efforts to educate inmates.

“There was nothing when I was released from the prison on February 21, though they say they are holding education talks,” he said.

“When I was in the prison, they did nothing at all. My family members brought me masks [via prison officials] when I was in prison, but I didn’t get them,” U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi added. “I asked the new prison warden what he would do to prevent the virus in prison. He said nothing to me.”

The Prisons Department says it is conducting temperature checks at over 90 prisons across the country including the eight central-level prisons in Yangon, Mandalay, Myingyan, Tharyarwady, Mohnyin and other places.

“Recently, police sent 14 Chinese inmates to prison in Mandalay. They returned from China’s Wuhan in December and we asked the police to put them in quarantine at a hospital for 14 days as required by the Health Department. We mainly don’t want infection inside the facility. Once there is an infection, it will spread out of control,” said U Ye Yint Naing.

Prison authorities have been instructed to provide inmates with personal care items and other health supplies, Prisons Department Director-General U Zaw Zaw told The Irrawaddy.

The department says it has instructed prison authorities to help inmates maintain personal hygiene.

“The sanitation of cells in courts is important,” said U Bo Kyi. “There should be educational posters [about the virus] in the cells.”

“Police have to keep an eye on family members who visit inmates,” he added. “Temperature checks should also be carried out on family members, and there should be enough water and soap in prisons for handwashing.”

The coronavirus is spreading in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world and the total number of cases has surpassed 80,000. The death toll from the outbreak has now topped 2,700 worldwide, the vast majority of deaths being in mainland China.

Outside China, the places hit worst by the outbreak are South Korea, with more than 1,260 cases, and Italy, with more than 320 cases. Iran has reported more than 90 cases and 15 deaths.

China is also struggling to control the outbreak in prisons. Last Friday, China reported that more than 500 Chinese prisoners were infected with COVID-19 across three provinces, including 230 inmates at Wuhan Women’s Prison, where the prison director was sacked.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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