Dozens of prisoners in a Pakistani jail have contracted the novel coronavirus, officials have said, with more than 150 additional inmates potentially infected as cases of COVID-19 continue to soar in the impoverished country.
At least 49 inmates at a jail in the eastern city of Lahore have tested positive, according to a tweet by the provincial chief minister late Monday.
The outbreak is believed to have stemmed from an inmate who was arrested for smuggling narcotics and had returned from Italy last month. He was diagnosed on March 23.
“Health department officials are coming every day to monitor the situation and the conditions of the patients,” Amir Rauf Khawaja, a public relations officer for the Lahore jail authority, told AFP Tuesday.
Khawaja said the test results for an additional 154 prisoners were still pending and authorities had set up a quarantine area inside the facility for inmates that had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Pakistani prisons and jails are frequently beset by shoddy health and hygiene conditions along with overcrowding making the facilities a potential flashpoint for the highly contagious coronavirus.
According to a 2019 government report, there are more than 70,000 people currently incarcerated in 114 different facilities across Pakistan, many of which are stretched beyond their intended capacity.
Ali Haider Habib from the advocacy group Justice Project Pakistan called the outbreak a cause for “great alarm”, saying “drastic measures” including releasing vulnerable prisoners needed to be taken immediately.
The Supreme Court is set to review a petition filed by the country’s attorney general calling for the early release of thousands of prisoners in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistani has recorded 3,864 COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths, however, the true tally is thought to be many times larger as only limited testing is available in the impoverished country of 215 million.