Dozens of prisoners in Pakistani prisons have contracted a new corona virus, officials say, with more than 150 additional inmates who are potentially infected as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the impoverished country.
At least 49 inmates in a prison in the eastern city of Lahore have been positive, according to a tweet by the provincial chief minister Monday night.
The outbreak is believed to have come from an inmate who was arrested for smuggling narcotics and had returned from Italy last month. He was diagnosed on March 23.
“Health department officials come every day to monitor the situation and condition of the patients,” Amir Rauf Khawaja, a public relations officer for the Lahore prison authority, told AFP Tuesday.
Khawaja said test results for 154 additional detainees were still pending and authorities had established a quarantine area inside the facility for inmates who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Pakistani prisons and prisons are often plagued by poor health and hygiene conditions along with overcrowding which makes facilities a potential flashpoint for the highly contagious corona virus.
According to a 2019 government report, there are more than 70,000 people currently incarcerated in 114 different facilities throughout Pakistan, many of which are beyond their intended capacity.
Ali Haider Habib from Pakistan’s Justice Project advocacy group called the outbreak a “big warning”, saying “drastic steps” including releasing vulnerable prisoners needed to be taken immediately.
The Supreme Court will review the petition submitted by the state attorney general calling for the early release of thousands of prisoners in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan has recorded 3,864 COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths, however, the actual count is considered many times greater because only limited tests are available in 215 million poor countries.
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