Pakistan warned off catastrophic coronavirus outbreak inside the prisons

Pakistan warned off catastrophic coronavirus outbreak inside the prisons

ISLAMABAD - Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Pakistan to take “immediate and urgent” steps to ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to adequate medical care and protective measures against the coronavirus.

The New York-based rights group says Pakistani prisons, jails, and detention centers should also consider “reducing their populations through appropriate supervised or early release of low-risk detainees.”

Human Rights Watch said the risk of contagion is particularly serious at overcrowded prisons in Pakistan -- a country where at least 660 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed with at least three deaths. With little testing available, Human Rights Watch said the real number of coronavirus cases is “likely much higher.”

Brad Adams, the rights group's Asia director, said Pakistani authorities “should urgently act to limit the chance of a catastrophic outbreak” at overcrowded detention facilities where he said the government’s “longstanding failure to ensure hygienic and humane conditions is amplifying the threat posed by COVID-19.”

According to a report last year by Pakistan's government, there were 77,275 prisoners being held in 2019 at 114 prisons meant to have a total capacity of only 57,742. The majority of those being held were undergoing trial and had not been convicted.

Meanwhile, Pakistan suspended all international passenger for two weeks. "We are suspending international flight operations effective tonight at 8:00 pm [local time]," Moeed Yusuf, a special assistant to the prime minister on national security, told journalists on March 21.

Earlier Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged citizens to strictly follow the policy of self-quarantine and social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Addressing journalists in Islamabad on March 20, Khan said he was not in favor of a total lockdown of the country, saying it would affect poor people.