000_94687EAnti-government protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul posts notes outside the Bangkok Remand Prison during a demonstration calling for the abolition of Thailand’s lese majeste royal defamation laws in Bangkok on March 3, 2021. Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP


BANGKOK: Thailand’s Department of Corrections reported on Wednesday (May 12) that nearly 3,000 inmates and officials in two Thai prisons have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, the department said it carried out tests among its employees and inmates and found 2,835 people infected with the coronavirus.

“The Department of Corrections performed proactive testing among 100 per cent of officials and inmates and found people infected with COVID-19 in jails/prisons, including the Central Women’s Correctional Institution, which has 1,040 cases in total, and the Bangkok Remand Prison, which has 1,795 cases in total,” the statement said.

“Every one of them is currently receiving medical treatments at the field hospital of the Medical Correctional Hospital. In case of critical condition, they will be transferred to hospitals outside for medical care.”

The statement came after some political activists tested positive for the coronavirus during or after their pre-trial detention.

One of them is prominent student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who said on Wednesday she had tested positive after being released from the Central Women’s Correctional Institution on May 6.

“I would like the government and the Department of Corrections to clarify and reveal the number of infected people in prisons outright.

Besides Panusaya, political activist Arnon Nampa has also tested positive for the coronavirus. He is currently held in pre-trial detention and receiving medical treatment.

A number of political activists in Thailand have been held in pre-trial detention for royal defamation and sedition charges due to their involvement in various protests, during which they called for reforms of the monarchy.

These include student activists such as Panusaya and Parit Chiwarak, who were recently given a temporary release on bail following their hunger strike.

Commonly known as the lese majeste law, Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code punishes whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent. The pre-trial detention faced by several activists has attracted criticism from rights activists and the pro-reform movement, which is largely led by youths.

According to the Department of Corrections, the spread of COVID-19 within its facilities is probably a result of the usual practice where new inmates are brought in and the old ones are taken out to court.

The department said in the statement that various “proactive measures” to control the coronavirus in prisons have been implemented, such as a 21-day quarantine and two COVID-19 tests required for new inmates.

“The Department of Corrections would like to confirm it can control the situation and that every prison has strict measures,” it said.

The department also added that the Medical Correctional Hospital has carried out more than 17,000 COVID-19 tests.

Thailand is battling a third wave of COVID-19, which spread from clusters at nightclubs, concerts and parties last month.

On Wednesday, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) reported 1,983 new cases and 34 more deaths. Since the new wave of infections emerged in April, the country has recorded 88,907 cases and 486 casulties.

Earlier this week, Thailand detected its first case of the B1617 variant of the coronavirus – a variant that was first detected in India. The patient is a pregnant Thai woman who travelled with her sons from Pakistan to Thailand last month.

The Foreign Ministry has suspended its issuance of certificates of entry to foreign nationals wishing to travel to Thailand from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

According to its spokesperson Tanee Sangrat, Thai nationals, diplomats on missions in Thailand and their families, as well as permanent residents travelling from these countries are still able to return to Thailand.

Following the recent spikes in cases, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pushed for more procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, with an aim to inoculate 70 per cent of the population, or about 50 million people, within this year.

The country requires 100 million doses to create herd immunity against the coronavirus. So far, the government has already secured 63 million doses, including 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be produced in the country.