COVID-19 hits Quezon City jail: 9 inmates, 9 officers infected
The inevitable appears to have happened, with nine persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and nine personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) testing positive for coronavirus.
The PDLs were among 21 inmates of the Quezon City Jail put in isolation after being in close contact with another inmate, since deceased, who was suspected of having contracted COVID-19, the BJMP said on Friday.
According to the inmate’s death certificate, possible coronavirus infection could have contributed to his demise.
The 21 inmates were tested for the virus on Monday while in an isolation facility for detainees set up in Payatas, Quezon City.
On Thursday, another batch of 24 inmates from the city jail was moved to the facility for testing.Notorious for congestion
The Quezon City Jail is notorious for congestion. Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia of the global Human Rights Watch, said the confirmed cases should compel the government to act urgently on the brewing catastrophe in the country’s overcrowded prisons.
“It shows why it’s so critical that the government actively pursues early release of detainees charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as the sick and older inmates,” Robertson said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was also “very concerned’’ about the confirmed cases in the city jail.
Boris Michel, the ICRC representative in the Philippines, said his organization had assisted the BJMP in setting up the 48-isolation facility in Payatas, with plans to expand its capacity to 150 beds.
Three more isolation facilities, he said, are expected to be operational soon—at the San Fernando District Jail in Pampanga; the Quezon District Jail in Pagbilao, Quezon; and New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Tracing of persons who had direct contact with the infected detainees and jail officers has started, according to the BJMP spokesperson, Jail Chief Insp. Xavier Solda.
“We are doing extensive contact tracing. We have a team assigned to it,” Solda said in an online press conference.
The BJMP personnel who have tested positive for the virus were put on home quarantine because they do not have severe symptoms, he said.
The bureau has also ordered the inmates in all 468 detention facilities nationwide to be tested for Covid-19.
Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya called on local governments to include jails in their locality when they start mass testing, and help the BJMP in acquiring test kits and protective gear.
“The BJMP will be applying the same principle crafted by the National Task Force on COVID-19 in all jail facilities across the country, which is to detect, isolate, treat and reintegrate,” Malaya said. “For treatment, the (Department of Health) and the local health units will help ensure the immediate recovery of these confirmed cases.”
Solda said the bureau had yet to pinpoint the source of the COVID-19 infection at Quezon City jail. “We are still unsure because we have already imposed a ‘no visitation’ policy at the jail as early as March 11, and it was already on total jail lockdown since March 20,” he said.
Human rights groups, including Karapatan, Kapatid and the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, have called for the immediate release of low-level offenders and political prisoners who are vulnerable to COVID-19, especially the sick and elderly, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers.
On April 8, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the temporary liberty of 22 inmates on humanitarian grounds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
After an unprecedented online deliberation conducted on Friday, the tribunal gave the 10 respondents in the government, including Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, until April 24 to comment on the petition.
The other respondents are BJMP Director Allan Sullano Iral, Bureau of Corrections Director General Geraldo Bantag, the wardens of Tagig City an Manila City jails, and officials of the NBP and Correctional Institution for Women.
Malaya said “whatever decision the SC will have on petitions calling for [the detainees] release, the DILG will comply.”
The BJMP is a line agency under the DILG. —With reports from Melvin Gascon and Jerome Aning
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