Karachi Central Jail reported its first Covid-19 fatality on Saturday night, with an inmate succumbing to the disease, while the virus also claimed the life of another prisoner incarcerated at the Malir district jail on Sunday.
Over 450 prisoners at Karachi Central Jail had earlier tested positive for the contagious disease. Of them, 150 were said to have recovered on Sunday after receiving fresh screening results.
The first prisoner to die as a result of the virus, 87-year-old Bahawal Khan, was serving a 25-year prison sentence at Karachi Central Jail after being convicted for murder. He had been ill prior to testing positive for the virus three days ago, and was under treatment at the prison hospital.
According to prison sources, Khan was shifted to Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi after his diagnosis and his family was informed immediately.
A day later, he was shifted to the Lyari General Hospital where he succumbed to the disease. Khan's son, Inayat, was with him during this time, said prison sources.
Jail authorities handed over the body of the deceased to his family, in the presence of a magistrate after due process. His funeral was held later on the same day at the Mowach Goth cemetery in Baldia Town.
Khan, who had been bed-ridden before contracting the virus, was a transporter by profession and a resident of Baldia Town. He was convicted in 2012 on charges of killing a man during an exchange of fire in a personal dispute.
Meanwhile, Akhtar alias Asif, 27, passed away at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), where he had been undergoing treatment for an abdominal disease.
According to Prisons IG Nusrat Hussain Mangan, Akhtar had been shifted to Malir jail on April 22 after being arrested for robbery. He said that the inmate fell ill a few days later and was being treated at the prison hospital until May 18, when he was moved to JPMC after his condition failed to stabilise.
Mangan claimed Akhtar was screened at JPMC after he showed symptoms of Covid-19, and was transferred to the hospital's isolation ward on May 24 after testing positive for the virus.
His body was handed over to his family under the supervision of a magistrate.
While the first case at the Central Jail was reported on May 11, over 450 prisoners, as well as a number of jail officials, had been diagnosed with the deadly virus in recent days.
Mangan confirmed that 150 of the infected prisoners had tested negative the virus on Sunday, adding that the rest were expected to recover soon.
He claimed that all inmates with coronavirus had been quarantined, adding that the jail's quarantine centre initially only had the capacity for 400 patients but this was later increased. Authorities had earlier expressed concern that the quarantine facility established on the premises might exceed capacity and were in consultation with the home department regarding the possibility of shifting inmates to the Expo Centre or other hospitals.
The Prisons IG further claimed that preventive measures and standard operating procedures were beign strictly followed at all jails in the city.
The measures undertaken at Karachi Central Jail included screening of at least 1,000 people each day, a quarantine facility to accommodate at least 400 infected patients, and precautionary measures such as hygiene awareness.
When the virus made its presence known in Sindh, prison authorities had voiced fears of a catastrophic outbreak in jails, pointing out that overcrowding and confined quarters meant that a single infected prisoner could rapidly infect hundreds of other inmates.
There are currently over 16,000 prisoners housed in Sindh's 24 jails - which have an actual capacity of 13,500 inmates. Karachi Central Jail has the highest number of prisoners, holding 3,619 inmates opposed to its capacity of 2,400.
Around 200 new inmates enter the province's prisons on a daily basis, with the potential to infect other prisoners who have little contact with the outside world.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2020.