Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is unsure about the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in jails around the country, as the tally of inmates diagnosed to have been infected with the virus rises.
As this developed, the Department of Justice (DoJ) is coordinating with various organizations, including the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), to conduct mass testing at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW).
“Not sure about the numbers, but I’ve received reports of new cases. So, the CIW has been instructed to immediately isolate these cases in its own quarantine facilities and bring to the hospital any PDL (person deprived of liberty) who manifests serious symptoms,” Guevarra said.
As of yesterday afternoon, 18 more inmates and one staff member of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) tested positive for COVID-19.
BuCor said there have been no COVID-19 positive cases reported or monitored for its other prisons and penal farms.
The BuCor has seven facilities nationwide: CIW, New Bilibid Prison, Iwahig, Davao, San Ramon and Sablayan prison and penal farms and Leyte Regional Prison.
On the other hand, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has also confirmed that 18 inmates and personnel of Quezon City Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The BuCor reported last Saturday that a 72-year-old CIW inmate tested positive for COVID-19. The prison’s infirmary diagnosed the woman, who has diabetes, with community-acquired pneumonia. She was later admitted at the Sta. Ana Hospital.
CIW superintendent Virginia Mangawit said PRC conducted a test on 51 individuals, consisting of 42 PDL and nine BuCor medical staff, who were traced to have been exposed to the first COVID-19 positive PDL patient.
“Those who tested positive were reported to have mild symptoms and some are asymptomatic. They are now being monitored and given vitamins, medicines and food supplements to strengthen their immune system,” Mangawit said.
BuCor is now conducting contract tracing, isolating those considered to have been exposed and used previously identified quarantine areas, and doing further testing on all persons who are suspect and probable, aside from taking regular precautionary measures.
Guevarra said they are responding to the situation with dispatch. He added that DoJ Undersecretary Deo Marco, who supervises correctional institutes, is in direct contact with BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag.
“I understand that Usec. Marco is doing the rounds today to personally inspect the preventive measures so far taken. I have emphasized to him and DG Bantag the need to give priority attention to the BuCor facilities in view of the threat of rapid COVID-19 transmission within,” Guevarra said.
The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the merit of a petition filed by relatives of several PDL who are vulnerable to the coronavirus seeking their early release from prison facilities for humanitarian reasons in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has given concerned government agencies until 24 April to comment on the petition.