LAHORE: The Punjab government said on Sunday the number of prisoners confirmed to have coronavirus in the province had jumped to 28 people, with over a hundred inmates suspected of having the disease placed in quarantine centers within jail compounds across the eastern city of Lahore.
Last month, panic spread in Punjab’s prison system when an inmate who was arrested after returning from Italy became the first to test positive for the virus in a Lahore prison compound housing 3,500 prisoners. There are 43 jails in Punjab with a total of 48,794 prisoners in detention, all living in close quarters.
The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has urged countries to take immediate action to reduce the number of inmates in various detention facilities, with countries like India, US, Iran, Canada, Italy and Germany paying heed to the appeal.
By Sunday evening, 1,380 people were confirmed to have Covid-19 in Pakistan’s most populous province, as Punjab reported its highest 24-hour surge.
All prisoners infected with coronavirus in Punjab are being kept at Camp Jail Lahore hospital, a facility especially established by the provincial government for housing and treating infected inmates, the spokesperson of the Punjab health department and focal person for coronavirus, Hafiz Qaisar told Arab News.
“28 prisoners are suffering from coronavirus and all are kept in Camp Jail, Lahore,” he said via text message.
Last month, the Islamabad, Lahore and Sindh high courts ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners in response to the UN’s warning that prisons could become hotbeds of the novel virus. Last week however, the country’s Supreme Court suspended these judgments to ascertain sounder criteria for their release.
Amir Khawaja, spokesperson for the Punjab prison department told Arab News that the screening process of inmates was still underway in Punjab’s prisons.
“Quarantine centers have been established and suspected patients are being kept there,” Khawaja said.
According to a document available with Arab News and dated April 4, there are 182 prisoners quarantined in five specially designated barracks in Lahore. A total of 252 samples have been collected from suspected Covid-19 patients, with 131 inmates testing negative with others’ results awaited.
Khawaja said the provincial prison department had directed all jail superintendents to establish separate coronavirus centers with at least four cells in each prison dedicated to coronavirus patients and with soap and masks made available.
“The health department is providing every required facility to prisoners. The authorities have been asked to send the samples of suspected patients and refer confirmed patients, if any, to the hospital,” Qaisar said, referring to the Lahore jail’s 100-bed hospital facility. Of these, reportedly, 40 beds are now operational.