Covid-19 fears spark prison riot in Thailand

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Some of the furniture broken by prisoners after the riot at Buriram Prison. AFP

Dozens of prisoners broke furniture and torched buildings during a riot in a Thai jail on Sunday sparked by fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the facility.

During the violence some convicts escaped from the Buriram prison where more than 2,000 are held, the justice ministry said. Seven have been arrested.

Local media showed footage of black smoke billowing from the prison’s multiple blocks in the country’s northeast, and a Corrections Department official said drones were deployed to investigate what weapons the prisoners were using.

“There was a group of prisoners trying to escape and were creating chaos … which included burning down some facilities inside,” said Corrections Department director-general Narat Sawetana.

He added later that six prisoners had been injured in the melee by broken glass. More than 1,500 prisoners had to be evacuated before the rioting could be stopped.

Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin confirmed that a group of inmates sentenced to life had started “agitating” other prisoners with rumours of a virus outbreak.

“The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buriram were infected – they only started this rumour to find some supporters,” the minister said, adding that the cafeteria and visiting areas were among the facilities torched.

Mental health workers were later deployed to assuage prisoners “after some rumours were spread” about a Covid-19 outbreak, Major General Akkaradej Pimonsri said. “The situation is under control.”

Thailand has recorded 1,524 cases of the coronavirus, including seven deaths.

At least two prisoners in the country have caught the virus.

In a bid to prevent outbreaks in jails, authorities have banned visitors and are quarantining new inmates for 14 days.