The Philippines have some of the world's most overcrowded prisons, a situation made worse by President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. Health authorities say more than a thousand health workers have been infected, with 26 dead, including 19 doctors.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Philippine prisons are becoming coronavirus hotbeds with 123 infected inmates, officials said yesterday
This is raising concerns among rights groups about the risks of contagion in some of the world's most overcrowded prisons.
In Cebu City, the mayor announced that a new prison with a capacity of 3,000 will be used as an isolation facility for an outbreak that accounts for 40 per cent of the cases in the country’s second largest city. There are no details about the possible source of the outbreak
Eighteen cases have been found at a jail in Quezon City, including nine staff members. Media have reported more cases in other correctional facilities.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the groups calling for the release of inmates held for minor and non-violent offences, as well as those with poor health, to create more space.
Advocacy groups around the world have urged governments to free political prisoners.
HRW this month warned of the risk of a serious coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines “threatening the lives of prisoners whose health the authorities have a duty to protect”.
The Cebu City prison has one of largest coronavirus clusters in the Philippines. As of Wednesday, the Philippines had 6,710 cases and 446 deaths, about 70 per cent in the capital Manila.
Philippine prisons are notoriously overcrowded due to a combination of poverty, high crime rates and a justice system unable to cope with a huge caseload.
Public defenders are in short supply, judges are overwhelmed with work, and insufficient bail money means that suspects generally spend long periods – sometimes years – behind bars before they get a court hearing, which often ends in acquittal.
As of December 2019, nearly 90,000 people were detained in the Philippines awaiting trial.
President Duarte's war on drugs has aggravated the problem, adding tens of thousands of people to the prison population every year, 71 per cent of whom held on drug-related offences.
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that due to concerns over the coronavirus, judges should urgently release prisoners eligible for temporary or early release.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus has infected 1,062 healthcare workers with 26 deaths, the health department said.
These workers represent 16 per cent of the total number of people infected in the country, Undersecretary for Health Maria Rose Vergeire said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this is the highest number in Asia. On average, the infection rate in the region is 2 to 3 per cent.
Vergeire added that most of the infected healthcare workers, 422, are doctors, followed by 386 nurses. The rest are technicians, radiologists, nursing assistants and administrative staff in hospitals and clinics. Of the 26 dead, 19 were doctors.
The health department said it was working closely with WHO to investigate if healthcare facilities were following guidelines on infection control to protect staff.
“We are ready to provide support to our front-liners who have been sacrificing in this fight against COVID-19 every day,” Vergeire said.
President Duterte is expected to decide this week whether to extend, lift or ease the lockdown on the country’s most populous island, Luzon, after 30 April.
In response to the crises triggered by the pandemic, the Philippine Catholic Church is undertaking a number of charitable initiatives.
In Cebu, the local archdiocese has decided to make the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) centre available to people who show coronavirus symptoms but cannot self-isolate at home.