Virus strikes Karachi Central Jail leaving a quarter of inmates infected

Pakistani policemen stand guard outside the Karachi Central Prison. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2020

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.”

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India says Indian, Chinese troops disengaging from standoff

Updated 11 July 2020

India says Indian, Chinese troops disengaging from standoff

  • Indian officials say a standoff between the two armies began in early May
  • The situation turned deadly when the rival troops engaged in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan Valley

NEW DELHI: India’s external affairs minister said Saturday that Indian and Chinese troops are disengaging from a monthslong standoff along the countries’ undemarcated border following a clash last month that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s remarks came a day after China’s ambassador to India said that Indian and Chinese front-line troops are disengaging in accordance with an agreement reached by their military commanders.
“It’s very much a work in progress,” Jaishankar said, adding that both sides agreed on the need to disengage because troops are deployed very close to each other.
The Chinese ambassador, Sun Weidong, said Friday that the two countries should be partners rather than rivals and handle their differences properly to bring their ties back on the right track.
Indian officials say a standoff between the two armies began in early May when large contingents of Chinese soldiers entered deep inside Indian-controlled territory at three places in Ladakh.
The situation turned deadly when the rival troops engaged in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan Valley, where India is building a strategic road connecting the region to an airstrip close to China. India says that 20 of its soldiers were killed in the June 15 clash and that there were casualties on the Chinese side as well.
China hasn’t confirmed any casualties on its side.
Through video conferencing on Friday, senior foreign ministry officials from the two countries reviewed the progress made in the disengagement process by the two armies at the disputed border, known as the Line of Actual Control.
The disputed border covers about 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) of frontier and stretches from Ladakh in the north to the Indian state of Sikkim in the northeast.
India and China fought a border war in 1962 that also spilled into Ladakh. The two countries have been trying to settle their border dispute since the early 1990s, without success.