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Overcrowded Philippine jail infected with coronavirus

Nine inmates and nine staff test positive as fears grow over mass transmission of Covid-19 in prisons

Overcrowded Philippine jail infected with coronavirus

Inmates crowded into the courtyard of Quezon City Jail in Manila on March 27. Guards and inmates at the notoriously overcrowded jail have tested positive for coronavirus, sparking urgent calls for the release of some prisoners. (Photo: AFP)

Nine inmates and nine employees have tested positive for Covid-19 at Quezon City Jail, the Philippines’ most overcrowded prison.

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda told the media on April 17 that its fears had been realized with the positive tests at the Manila jail.

Solda also raised concerns about the potential for mass transmission of the virus among 160,000 prisoners and 14,875 staff in 476 jails across the country. The prisons are meant to accommodate only 30,000 inmates.

“The city [Quezon City] jail was built only for 800 persons or inmates. But as of 2016, we already had 3,800 inmates, making it difficult, if not impossible, for us to implement physical distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Solda said on national television.

He said the infected inmates are now in a quarantine facility outside prison grounds while the employees have been sent home for quarantine. Twenty-one inmates have also been moved to a separate facility after exhibiting virus symptoms. Their swab test results are yet to be released.

An inmate of Quezon City Jail died of suspected Covid-19 on March 25.

The bureau had earlier canceled visits to all jails nationwide due to the pandemic.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had warned prison authorities that overcrowding, poor ventilation and infrastructure, deficient hygiene and sanitation conditions favor the spread of infectious diseases such as Covid-19 and tuberculosis.

The ICRC also said that Covid-19 has devastating effects on vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases within prisons.

The World Prison Brief’s latest report ranked the Philippines’ jail occupancy rate at the highest in the world. Numbers have ballooned since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs in 2016.

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Meanwhile, Bicol bishops have called on the faithful to join a simultaneous prayer of solidarity against Covid-19 on April 19, Divine Mercy Sunday, at 6pm.

“As we celebrate the Feast of Jesus, the Divine Mercy in the midst of trials and difficulties brought about by Covid-19, we come together as a community of faith in the Bicol region to pray against the coronavirus disease, and for unity as we aid those in need,” the Archdiocese of Caceres announced on its Facebook page.

As of April 17, the Philippines had recorded 5,878 Covid-19 cases with 387 deaths, according to government figures.

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