Demanding better social distancing protocols and medical care, hundreds of inmates set fire to a prison in Thailand and staged a two-day riot to protest authorities’ handling of a coronavirus cluster.
The unrest started on Thursday night as some 400 inmates at the Krabi Provincial Prison on the southern coast of Thailand, better known as a tourist beach destination, demanded that infected prisoners be taken to hospital instead of being kept in the prison.
Rioters set fire to their sleeping quarters and attacked wardens, with videos and photos showing large flames and plumes of black smoke as a wing of the prison burned. Shouts coming from within the compound could be heard, though no serious injuries have been reported.
“There are no fatalities, only minor injuries,” deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said. He added that COVID test kits were dispensed to inmates after calm was restored, with around 200 men found to be infected.
“The situation has been brought under control since last night and prison officials will inspect any damage that occurred,” Kissana Phathanacharoen said.
Riot police entered the prison, which houses more than 2,100 inmates, and fired rubber bullets, injuring 14. They arrested “31 suspected ringleaders” and prisoners they believed were attempting to escape, reported local media outlets. One government official was quoted as saying that those arrested were taken to a high security prison and investigations were underway.
With over 300,000 inmates, Thailand has one of the highest prison populations in Asia. The issue of overcrowding has plagued many Thai prisons, and watchdog groups say conditions have only worsened since the pandemic.
The government even considered releasing 50,000 inmates earlier this year to curb the issue of overcrowding as infection clusters grew. Statistics from Thailand’s Corrections Department have shown alarming daily case rates, and as of last week, had reported a total of 86,432 COVID-19 cases in Thai prisons—among them 185 deaths.
The riots come as fears over Omicron grow in the kingdom. The country has detected more than 80 cases of the highly infectious variant, with authorities considering reimposing mandatory quarantine for new arrivals.
Follow Heather Chen on Twitter.