District jail declines to accept new prisoners

Number of inmates suffering from coronavirus rises to 49 with 150 suspected cases

​ Our Correspondent April 08, 2020

LAHORE: After the confirmation of at least 49 coronavirus cases among prisoners, the Lahore District Jail superintendent has urged the authorities concerned not to send  any new inmates to the prison.

The official cited insufficient health facilities in the district jail after 49 inmates tested positive in addition to over 150 suspected patients.

The first confirmed coronavirus infection case of an inmate in Lahore was reported last month, of a man arrested on drug smuggling charges. He had recently returned from Italy.

After realisation of the need to ensure steps to stop the spread of the pandemic, officials of the health department briefed jail authorities about the preventive measures. Quarantine centres were also set up.

The jail authorities had written to Lahore police to ensure that released prisoners would not mingle with people and would stay at home for at least two weeks. The jail authorities since then had been sharing the list of those released from prisons with the police.

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A few days back, four more prisoners tested positive for the virus. The jail authorities took a policy decision on the issue and asked Lahore police to test new prisoners for COVID-19 before sending them to the prison. The Munshi, Mayo and Jinnah hospitals were assigned by the authorities for the purpose.

However, on Monday more test results came and 49 prisoners were found suffering from COVID-19. The high figure and its growth from one to 49 in just two weeks forced the authorities to go for more  a stringent a step and the superintendent of District Jail had asked the authorities to send new inmates to the Central Jail

Moreover, on Tuesday a video link training session and meeting of jail authorities, home department and health department was held. The meeting was chaired by Punjab Home Affairs Special Secretary Iqbal Hussain. It was attended by Jails Additional Secretary Zeeshan Rana, IG Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig and Deputy Secretary Awais Mushtaq. The DIGs, superintendents and medical staff of all the jails across Punjab also joined the meeting.

COVID-19 expert Dr Mehmood Ayyaz delivered a detailed lecture about preventive measures. He also instructed the officials about maintaining cleanliness of jails using chlorinated water.

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The special secretary asked the authorities to keep the suspected and confirmed patients in separate wards. He also asked them to adopt a policy of keeping new inmates in isolation for a considerable period of time.

However, it is being presumed that the number of patients in prisons may multiply in coming days. Different factors like being overcrowded and lack of health and hygiene facilities may contribute to the problem. Moreover, the possibilities of close or indirect interaction with confirmed or potential COVID-19 patients can be another reason.

The health facilities in Lahore’s jails were already inadequate before the current crisis. A number of patients of various diseases were shifted from the jails to government hospitals for treatment in recent months and most of them died.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2020.