Thailand reports record COVID-19 infections after prison clusters

FILE PHOTO: Arrested anti-government protest leader Jatupat "Pai" Boonpattararaksa and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok show three-finger salutes as they arrive at the criminal court to face lese majeste charges in Bangkok, Thailand March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand announced a daily record in new coronavirus cases on Thursday after clusters in two jails saw nearly 3,000 inmates infected, among them a leader of anti-government protests held while awaiting trial for insulting the king.

Authorities reported 32 COVID-19 deaths and 4,887 infections, a new daily high in cases after 2,835 prisoners were added to the tally following the mass testing of thousands of inmates in two Bangkok jails.

A corrections department official said those infected included Panupong "Mike Rayong" Jadnok, 24, who has been held since March 8 on charges that include sedition and insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

He was the fourth member of the youth-led movement charged with lese majeste to test positive in jail, or within days of leaving.

Thailand is suffering its biggest outbreak so far, with overall cases tripling to 93,794 and deaths increasing fivefold to 518 in the past six weeks, after a year of success in containment.

Human Rights Watch in a statement said inmates in Thailand should be better protected.

"Besides providing healthcare and virus testing, the authorities should reduce the detainee population through supervised release of those held on political motivated charges and minor offenses, or who face greater risk from underling health conditions," it said.

Other infected protest leaders are Arnon Nampa and Chukiat "Justin" Sangwong, and Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul, who tested positive a few days after her release on bail.

A corrections official said Panusaya may have been infected at home as inmates around her had negative tests.

The outbreak is challenging Thailand at a time when only 1.3 million people have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

Authorities say all residents are eligible for free vaccination when mass immunisation starts from June, but Bangkok health official Parnrudee Manomaipiboon on Thursday said Thai citizens would be prioritised, with the aim of registering foreigners from August.

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Martin Petty)

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