195 inmates infected with COVID-19 nationwide raises calls to decongest jails

May. 04, 2020

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – 195 inmates in detention facilities nationwide have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and has raised calls again for decongestion of jails from groups.

The recent information from the Department of Health said they had conducted tests on 373 detainees and found 195 of them infected.

The DOH also said 38 employees of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have tested positive of the virus.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie said they are now closely coordinating with the BJMP and Philippine Red Cross for the early test, isolation, and treatment of the Covid-19-infected inmates and employees to contain the spread of the disease inside detention facilities.

DOH previously said it would be conducting targeted testing facilities where it is needed.

Human rights groups have urged the Duterte administration to grant the release of prisoners amid concerns of outbreaks in congested jails. They cited BJMP’s report that the congestion rate in their 467 jails is at 534 percent.

Karapatan and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers has filed a petition at the Supreme Court last month to grant the release of some 609 political detainees, which include 47 elderly and 63 who are suffering from illnesses.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that the Philippine government has “not fully” reported prison deaths, “raising concerns that Covid-19 is spreading more quickly and widely” in detention facilities.

“Five inmates interviewed separately told Human Rights Watch recently that since March 25, 2020, at least seven inmates have died in the Quezon City Jail and one in the Cavite Provincial Jail,” the group said, adding that they could not determine whether the deaths were Covid-19 related because of the absence of testing in the facilities and the government’s “failure to report them.”

“Unreported deaths of inmates show the urgent need for the Duterte government to be transparent about the spread of COVID-19 inside the country’s overcrowded prisons,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

“The government should get serious about the terrible situation in its prisons and jails and accurately report on prison deaths and illness,” he added. (davaotoday.com)

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