Thailand announced 9,635 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday – the biggest daily increase recorded in the country, by far – following outbreaks in its notoriously overcrowded prisons.
Over the past two weeks, health teams have tested about 24,000 inmates, and found more than 40% (10,748) had the virus, according to ministry of foreign affairs deputy spokesperson Natapanu Nopakun. About 2,200 are awaiting their results. Inmates who have tested positive have since been moved to field hospitals and other medical facilities for treatment.
Conditions in Thailand’s prisons came under the spotlight when several prominent pro-democracy activists, who were in detention awaiting trial for lese majesty charges, recently tested positive for the virus.
There are 380,000 inmates across the country, and rights groups have warned about the lack of social distancing inside cramped facilities. Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week that the Thai government should “swiftly reduce overcrowding by releasing people who do not pose a serious and concrete risk to others.”
Outside of Thailand’s prisons, the majority of recent Covid infections are in Bangkok, where the virus has spread among construction workers and in densely populated areas of the capital.
Thailand was widely praised for its success in containing the virus last year, when it imposed a strict lockdown and robust contact tracing measures. By January it had recorded fewer than 7,200 cases and 63 deaths. Infections have since risen to 111,082, while the death toll now stands at 614.
A full lockdown has not been announced, though officials have closed schools, parks and businesses such as gyms and massage parlours. Restrictions in high risk areas, including Bangkok, were eased on Monday, allowing restaurants to open at 25% of their usual capacity.
Last week, the daily average caseload was 2,582, according to Johns Hopkins University.