BuCor: Inmate died of TB, other complications not COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has denied reports that an inmate in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City died of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) but of other complications — but insisted that the body did not get tested for the virus as recommended by prison doctors.
BuCor spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag confirmed that a prisoner died on March 25 at the NBP Hospital. Based on the information, he died due to “community-acquired pneumonia, Koch’s pneumonia (tuberculosis), anemia, congestive heart failure.”
The body was transferred to a funeral service parlor in Barangay Cupang, with a certification signed by the superintendent of the NBP south quadrant, which encompasses Buildings 3, 8 and 13 of the maximum security compound.
The south quadrant is the most populous of all the four sectors of the NBP, housing more than 6,000 inmates out of the maximum security’s total population of 20,000 inmates.
Chaclag clarified that the inmate died of pre-existing medical conditions such as tuberculosis, saying that he was admitted at the NBP Hospital since Jan. 2.
“He died of respiratory infection due to tuberculosis, and not because of COVID-19,” Chaclag said in a message on Tuesday night.
According to Chaclag, the recent death of the inmate was just one of the “everyday” fatalities in Bilibid. Last year, a total of 754 — or two prisoners per day — died in all seven BuCor facilities in the country.
The BuCor official said the inmate was not tested for COVID-19, as recommended by the NBP doctor, citing the “algorithm used by the Department of Health.”
The inmates were “naturally quarantined,” Chaclag noted, and could not have been exposed to possible virus carriers. The BuCor suspended all visitation privileges since March 11 and all of its seven prisons are under lockdown.
The DOH has a Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) surveillance, which monitors possible COVID-19 cases. According to the World Health Organization, a case is considered SARI if a patient has an acute respiratory infection, a history of fever of or above 38 degrees Celsius and cough within the last 10 days, and has been admitted to a hospital.
“The NBP and all six other BuCor facilities are COVID free. And we intend, hope and pray that it will stay that way,” Chaclag maintained.
The BuCor said that no inmate or personnel had contracted COVID-19. But noted that around 10 BuCor personnel who had symptoms of flu and colds were ordered to observe a home quarantine for 14 days.
As of March 31, the Muntinlupa local government recorded 34 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city. Four of which are in Barangay Poblacion, where the NBP reservation compound is located.
Chaclag called on groups and individuals not to spread unverified information.
“You are causing anxieties and unnecessary worries to the families of [prisoners] if you spread even your own unverified suspicion. You are causing them pain, dissension and sleepless nights due to your irresponsible spread of fake news,” he said.
The BuCor assured families of prisoners that they were “ready” should an inmate contracted COVID-19. Chaclag said they had set up nine “isolation buildings” in NBP but did not disclose details about it.
But prisoners’ rights group Kapatid rang the alarm of a possible “catastrophic” outbreak if BuCor and authorities remained complacent.
“We cannot close our eyes… we remain most anxious about continuing reports of political prisoners falling sick with fever, a key symptom of the fast-spreading lethal coronavirus,” it said in a statement.
Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said the inmate’s death should be investigated due to pneumonia being a “red flag” for a possible COVID-19 case.
“We can only know the true cause of death from an autopsy and a transparent investigation even as we press our call to start mass testing in jails for COVID-19 to assess the actual situation and to quickly isolate the infected and the carriers who may be asymptomatic,” she added.
The group has repeatedly warned authorities that the virus could not be stopped by lockdowns or disinfection measures, given that prisons and jails could not even provide simple hygiene essentials like soap and running water to its inmates.
“No prison is a locked environment. [And] because no protective health measures can be adequate to keep out contagious diseases, the only way to protect prisoners is to carry out humanitarian releases,” Lim had said.
They reiterated their call to release low-level offenders, inmates already due for parole, as well as those the elderly, sickly and pregnant prisoners — who are considered to be the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
At least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and “accidental victims” of political arrests should also be among those released on “just and humanitarian grounds” — similar to what is happening in other COVID-19 infected countries.
Mass testing of prisoners, personnel
The mass testing should also be done to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and BuCor personnel, who come and go inside the prison compounds but were not provided with adequate personal protective equipment.
“As shown in multiple cases abroad, it was prison personnel who brought the virus unknowingly inside their places of work,” Lim said.
Kapatid cited the scenario in Wuhan, China where the city’s jail facilities became a hotbed of COVID-19 cases, brought by prison personnel. In February, nearly half or 233 out of the 565 new infections were inmates of the city prisons.
“The release of prisoners during this extreme public health emergency is now the worldwide trend,” Lim noted, such as in Iran, United States, Ireland and Spain.
UN rights chief: Release inmates
The United Nations rights chief last week called on countries to release inmates in overcrowded prisons to protect them from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“COVID-19 has begun to strike prisons, jails and immigration detention centers, as well as residential care homes and psychiatric hospitals, and risks rampaging through such institutions’ extremely vulnerable populations,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Thursday.
“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” she added.
The congestion rate at BJMP and BuCor stands at 442 percent and 302 percent, respectively. There are more than 215,000 inmates in BJMP and BuCor facilities.
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