04/04/2020, 08.00
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Indonesia releases 18,000 prisoners to halt COVID-19 in prison

The aim is to ease tensions in the country's overcrowded and insalubrious prisons. Responding to an appeal by the UN, the government promised the release more than 30,000 prisoners. Once outside, prisoners will have to be quarantined. Indonesia recorded the second largest death toll yesterday after China.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesian authorities have ordered the release of 18,000 inmates to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded and insalubrious prisons.

The Indonesian government is worried about the pandemic as number of deaths rises so fast. On Thursday, it recorded the second highest death toll in Asia after China. 

The mass release comes a few days after the government announced that it would let out 30,000 prisoners to ease pressure on the prison population.

In so doing, the government heeded an appeal by the United Nations to free vulnerable prisoners. Afghanistan last week announced that it would let out 10,000 prisoners.

"Our target is to release 30,000 inmates in total, but it could end up being more," said Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Directorate General. “This is part of the plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons."

Both juvenile offenders and adult prisoners who had served at least two-thirds of their sentences are set to be among those released. Once outside, they will have to be quarantined for two weeks at home.

Indonesia tops Southeast Asia in terms of confirmed novel coronavirus cases with 1,986, 181 deaths and 134 healed. The country’s population is 261 million.

Just under 7,200 people have been tested, far fewer than in other countries in the region, including smaller ones. But the actual figures could be much lower.

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said that his province carried out more than 25,000 "quick tests" and at least 500 were positive but needed further testing.

Officially, West Java has 223 cases – 127 reported in one cluster, a Lembang church – with 25 deaths.

"Without massive testing, we wouldn't have found this cluster," Kamil said. "Other regions which report low cases are the same – maybe if they did more tests they would find more.”

The province intends to promote a campaign “of rapid and massive tests, until we are sure that it is indeed low", which might serve as input for the rest of the country.

The authorities have deployed police to ensure that everyone at risk is tested.

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