Thailand has seen its highest number of daily Covid cases, with the majority of the new infections in the country’s overcrowded prisons.
Monday’s 9,635 new cases included 6,853 prisoners – more than double the previous daily record.
Thailand admitted there were growing clusters in jails after several prominent activists tested positive.
The country has managed to keep coronavirus numbers low for the last year but saw a huge spike last month.
A total of 111,082 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. The previous highest daily total was 4,887 on 13 May, according to Johns Hopkins University.
There were also 25 new deaths on Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 614.
According to the Thai government, almost half of those tested across eight prisons were found to have Covid-19: 10,748 out of 24,537 inmates.
In the worst-hit prison, in the northern province of Chiang Mai, 61% of inmates tested positive.
“Many people warned the Thai authorities that they needed to act proactively to avoid such a situation, but it seems they got caught sleeping at the switch,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia director in a statement released this month.
A Corrections Department official told a press conference on Monday that not much could be done “in reality”.
“Even though there’s a command from the Corrections Department director-general for everyone to wear a mask 24 hours a day, in reality it can’t be done because inmates have to shower and eat. Some are taken out to courts and have to eat there,” said deputy director-general Dr Veerakit Harnparipan.
“What has happened is something beyond the Corrections Department’s capacity because we can’t turn down new inmates,” he added.
The Corrections Department recently announced that 12,000 vaccine doses had been secured for inmates and they were trying to procure more.
The quarantine period for new prisoners has now been increased to 21 days and testing has been ramped up.
Last week, most of the country’s cases occurred in just two prisons outside the capital Bangkok. The justice ministry said then that these two prisons had to constantly accept new inmates.
Only 10 cases were reported in Bangkok Remand Prison on 25 April. This figure jumped to 1,960 last week.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says there are some 380,000 inmates in Thailand’s 143 prisons, adding that they are all “at grave risk from Covid-19 outbreaks”.
HRW called on Thai authorities to “swiftly reduce overcrowding by releasing people who do not pose a serious risk to others”.
However, Thai authorities said the number of inmates has already been reduced to 310,000 due to overcrowding alleviation policies.