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Doctors, politicians sound alarm in Calgary over potential for coronavirus to spread in Chinese detention camps

Doctors, human rights advocates and politicians raised concerns about coronavirus on Sunday in Calgary, fearing it could quickly spread through Chinese detention camps.

The coalition called on the international community to take action to save Uighurs, a Turkish minority group they say is being persecuted by the Chinese government, trapped in poor living conditions in the camps that could threaten their lives.

China on Monday reported 361 have died on the mainland from the new virus, with an additional 2,829 new cases over the last 24 hours bringing the Chinese total to 17,205.

Dr. Fozia Alvi, an Alberta-based physician, is now concerned that coronavirus could spread through the camps, which would be devastating to detainees.

“We don’t know if the virus is in those camps… Possibly if the virus gets to the camp, they are going to contract it and they are going to die… They have absolutely no way to get medical help if they get sick or to contact or get any help from the international community,” she said.

It’s not clear what health care detainees are receiving.

“It’s a catastrophe within a catastrophe waiting to happen,” Alvi said.

However, in a November 2019 statement, the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom said that religious freedom and the personal freedom of detainees were “fully respected.”

Sen. Marilou McPhedran shares Alvi’s concerns and is pushing for the World Health Organization to intervene. It has not been allowed inside the camps.

“We don’t know what’s happening inside those prison walls but it is reasonable to anticipate that if we have this kind of contagion in the larger population, that if it hasn’t happened already, it will happen soon,” she said.

Mehliya Cetinkaya, 14, lives in Edmonton and is a part of the East Turkistan Association of Alberta. She and her mother Mukerrum Cetinkaya said the teen’s cousin and great uncle are in the camps.

“They were both detained because of their ethnicity,” Mehliya said.

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