NGO urges govt to plan for possible Covid-19 outbreak in prisons

PETALING JAYA: The government is urged to look into prevention and treatment strategies in the country's prisons immediately to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks like the ones taking place in prisons overseas.

Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group (MTAAG+) director Edward Low said in an interview that no announcement had been made yet on the number of inmates tested for Covid-19 and there was concern that the Prisons Department does not have the capacity to test prisoners for the disease.

"Prisoners living in over-crowded prison conditions could exacerbate a Covid-19 outbreak if it occurs," he said on Wednesday (May 20).

Low said the Prisons Department should be given resources and test kits to test the prison population in Malaysia, estimated to be around 84,000.

In a statement issued by MTAAG+ on the same day, Low urged the Health Ministry and various stakeholders to collaborate with community-based organisations in various states to look into prevention and treatment strategies.

Currently, the ministry had focussed on migrants and those in detention centres and little attention on the prison population which are housed in confined spaces with no room for physical distancing, he said.

Based on this concern, Low also urged the authorities not to send minor offenders to jail.

While Malaysia’s efforts in battling the spread of Covid-19 among the various known communities were proving fruitful, the delay in implementing prevention and treatment measures in prisons could result in the next wave of outbreak, he said.

"If such outbreaks occur, they will place a considerable heavy burden on the health-care services in prisons, as well as increase the likelihood of the Covid-19 spread within prisons and places of detention," he said.

It could also spread from prisons into the community, and if that happens, all of the country's efforts in containing the disease would be wasted, he added.

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