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

Doctors, politicians sound alarm in Calgary over potential for coronavirus to spread in Chinese detention camps
WATCH: Concerns keep mounting about coronavirus, which is responsible for more than 300 deaths in China.

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

READ MORE: China finishes new hospital for coronavirus victims as its death toll hits 361

The coalition called on the international community to take action to save Uighurs, a Turkic 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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus fears trigger anti-China sentiment across the globe

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

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“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.”

READ MORE: Here’s a timeline of the 4 confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada

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.

“[The World Health Organization] does have the authority to say to a country, ‘We are sending in experts and we need to see what’s inside these prison walls. We need to be able to report to the world on what is happening and what the level of risk is and how it’s being managed.'”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 325 Canadians have requested to leave epicentre of the outbreak

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.

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

She said she and her family are struggling because they have lost contact with their relatives and fear for their health and safety.

“We’re all falling into a state of depression where we don’t know how to cope because we’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Mehliya said.

“It’s really scary to see that this is happening right now in the 21st century, where we should all be speaking out about this… Everyone is afraid and we need to stand together and be brave.”

– With a file from The Associated Press