The Wuhan coronavirus has hit Xinjiang, where China has imprisoned at least 1 million Uighur Muslims. Its filthy detention camps will make inmates sitting ducks.

Residents line up inside the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center at the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region.

The Wuhan coronavirus that has killed at least 26 people in China hit the western region of Xinjiang on Thursday.

At 6 p.m. local time health authorities reported a 47-year-old man, named as Li, and a 52-year-old man, named as Gu, were infected, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing the state-run China Central Television (CCTV).Advertisement

Authorities said the pair had visited Wuhan, in Hubei, where the first case was reported on January 10, RFA said.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on the outbreak in Xinjiang, citing health authorities.

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The development is significant. If the virus spreads in Xinjiang it could leave the estimated 1 million Uighur Muslims detained in prison camps across the region highly vulnerable to infection. Uighurs call the region East Turkestan.

The camps are filthy, have poor infrastructure, and are packed to busting with prisoners, according to testimony of former inmates. This makes them an ideal breeding ground for disease and infection.There are at least 465 such camps spread across the region, according to research by the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement activist group last year. (Turkistan is an alternate spelling.)Advertisement

Plastic buckets for toilets, and rooms so small people have to take turns sleeping

Omir, an ex-inmate of a camp in Karamay, northern Xinjiang, told the BBC in 2018 he shared a room with 45 other people, and had to take turns sleeping because there was so little space.

china xinjiang camps
Sayragul Sauytbay, who escaped from a camp in March 2018, separately told Haaretz: "The food was bad, there weren't enough hours for sleep and the hygiene was atrocious," she said.Advertisement

"There were almost 20 people in a room of 16 square meters," she added."

"Each room had a plastic bucket for a toilet. Every prisoner was given two minutes a day to use the toilet, and the bucket was emptied only once a day."

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A 'massive disaster' looms

If the Wuhan virus makes its way into the camps it will have "serious implications" for the detainees, Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, told RFA, warning "the lives of millions of people will be at stake."

James Millward, professor of Chinese and Central Asian history at Georgetown University, tweeted that "cramped conditions, poor hygiene, cold, stressed immune systems" could result in "a massive disaster."

"Guarding against epidemics was one of the first requisites in Zhu Hailun manual on setting up camps," he added, referring to official manuals for how camps should be set up, which were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last year.Advertisement

Wuhan China Virus
The virus, also called 2019-nCoV, is a new strain of coronavirus - which can infect the nose, throat, and sinuses - that has not been seen by humans before.Authorities on Monday said the virus can spread from one human to another, having previously said that they believed it could only spread from animals to humans. Advertisement

It is thought to have started with bats, who passed it to snakes, who then passed it to humans, scientists said.

While serious, the coronavirus is not yet a public health emergency, according to the World Health Organization.

"Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency," director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.Advertisement

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