Virus strikes Karachi Central Jail leaving a quarter of inmates infected

Virus strikes Karachi Central Jail leaving a quarter of inmates infected
Pakistani policemen stand guard outside the Karachi Central Prison. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 20 June 2020

Virus strikes Karachi Central Jail leaving a quarter of inmates infected

Virus strikes Karachi Central Jail leaving a quarter of inmates infected
  • Sindh province’s prisons chief says 896 out of 3,500 prisoners have tested positive
  • Rights group says number much higher than being projected

KARACHI: Blaming limited testing kits and an overcrowded facility for an uptick in infections at Karachi Central Jail, Sindh’s prisons chief told Arab News on Friday that 896 out of 3,500 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“Karachi’s Central Jail can hold 2,400 prisoners, but around 3,500 inmates were housed there, making it badly overcrowded ... 896, or 25 percent of total inmates, have tested positive,” Kazi Nazir Ahmed, inspector general of prisons in Sindh, said.
It is a figure contested by the rights group Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), which said the number was much higher, with 1,293, or 37 percent of the total number of inmates, testing positive for the deadly disease.
Statistics, based on a compilation of data from 114 prisons across the country, showed “only 25,456 of Pakistan’s total 77,275 inmates, or a little over 30 percent, had been convicted for crimes, while 48,008 were on trial, with several held for minor offenses. Two-thirds of Pakistan’s prison population hasn’t even been convicted. Many among them are sick and elderly. They will die in prison,” JPP spokesman, Ali Haider Habib, said.
At present, the report added, 1,624 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 in Pakistan, with Sindh province recording the highest number of infections at 1,475 — 80 percent of which were in Karachi Central Jail.
As of Friday, three inmates had died of COVID-19, two from Sindh.
Several jails in Pakistan keep inmates for a limited period, such as detainees awaiting trial or those serving short sentences. 
However, the inflow and outflow of prisoners often raises the risk of infection as the virus can be carried in from the community by a single contagious person spread quickly in crowded cell blocks, and be reintroduced to the community by other members of staff or released prisoners.
On May 21, the former inspector general of prisons in Sindh, Nusrat Hussain Mangan, wrote a letter to the home department recommending the release of four patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. 
The prisoners were not released and one of them, named Bahawal Khan, died in jail.
The JPP report said the 42 jails in Punjab — with a capacity of 32,477 inmates — were housing 47,007 individuals. At the same time, in Sindh, the overcrowding ratio was 32.23 percent, with 17,239 inmates lodged in 24 prisons for 13,038 inmates.
It added that out of the total 77,275 inmates in all of Pakistan’s prisons, 1,184 were women and 1,500 were above the age of 60.
While 2,100 prisoners had diverse ailments, 2,400 had contagious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis, and 600 had been diagnosed with mental illnesses.
In Sindh, 223 inmates were aged 60, and above, while 208 had been diagnosed with hepatitis, 39 were HIV positive, 27 had tuberculosis, and 235 had mental illnesses.
Habib, however, traced the surge in infections to the cramped living conditions at many of the prison facilities.
“The emergence of cases in Karachi Central Jail and other prisons in Sindh is alarming but not surprising: How can we expect prisoners to be holed up in tiny cells together and not contract the virus?” he asked, adding that overcrowding not only left prisoners “feeling more vulnerable” but made it “more difficult for prison officials and prisoners to observe safety guidelines.”
Ahmed said authorities were aware of the challenges at hand and had created “more space and enforced safety rules” to contain the outbreak, in addition to moving 320 convicted prisoners to other prisons in the province.
“A team from the district health department is testing inmates regularly, while 30 cells and nine barracks have been converted into a quarantine centre where the affected prisoners have been kept,” Ahmed said, adding that there was a dedicated isolation ward for patients in critical condition as well.
Additional measures included the provision of soaps, sanitizes, and surgical and washable masks which had been distributed among prisoners and staff. At the same time, doctors were available around the clock to tend to elderly and sick prisoners who had been segregated from healthy inmates.
“Prisoners are allowed to enter the jail premises only after they are tested for the virus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sindh’s government advisor for prisons, Aijaz Jakhrani, told Arab News that the authorities had taken immediate steps to ensure the safety of prisoners soon after the first case was reported in Karachi’s Central Jail in May.
“As a first step, the population of (the) overcrowded Karachi Central Jail was brought down by sending inmates to other prisons (across) the province,” he said, creating space to quarantine infected inmates “whose number has also decreased with the recovery of over 300 prisoners.”

Related


China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners
Updated 19 January 2021

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners
  • Twenty-two workers have been stuck 540 meters underground near Yantai in east China’s Shandong province

BEIJING: Chinese rescuers drilled several fresh holes Tuesday to reach at least 12 gold miners trapped underground for nine days, as dwindling food supplies and rising waters threatened their survival.
Twenty-two workers have been stuck 540 meters (1,750 feet) underground at the Hushan mine near Yantai in east China’s Shandong province after an explosion damaged the entrance.
After days without any signs of life, some of the trapped miners managed to send up a note attached to a metal wire which rescuers had dropped into the mine on Sunday.
Pleading for help, the handwritten message said a dozen of them were alive but surrounded by water and in need of urgent medical supplies.
Several of the miners were injured, the note said.
A subsequent phone call with the miners revealed 11 were in one location 540 meters below the surface with another – apparently alone – trapped a further 100 meters down.
The whereabouts and condition of the other 10 miners is still unknown.
Rescuers have already dug three channels and sent food, medicine, paper and pencils down thin shafts – lifelines to the miners cut into the earth.
But progress was slow, according to Chen Fei, a top city official.
“The surrounding rock near the ore body is mostly granite... that is very hard, resulting in slow progress of rescue,” Chen told reporters on Monday evening.
“There is a lot of water in the shaft that may flow into the manway and pose a danger to the trapped workers.”
Chen said the current food supply was only enough for two days.
Rescuers drilled three more channels on Tuesday, according to a rescue map published on the Yantai government’s official twitter-like Weibo account.
A telephone connection has also been set up.
Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed dozens of rescuers clearing the main return shaft, while cranes and a massive bore-hole drill was used to dig new rescue channels to reach the trapped miners.
Rescue teams lost precious time since it took more than a day for the accident to be reported, China Youth daily reported citing provincial authorities.
Both the local Communist Party secretary and mayor have been sacked over the 30-hour delay and an official investigation is under way to determine the cause of the explosion.
Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and regulations are often weakly enforced.
In December, 23 workers died after being stuck underground in the southwestern city of Chongqing, just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped underground at another coal mine in the city.