LAHORE: The Punjab government has issued new guidelines for the 42 jails of the province, declaring mandatory the screening of more than 48,000 prisoners for the virus and disinfection of iron bars and touched surfaces with 1% Sodium Hypochlorite Solution.

It has also directed to clean the used clothes, bed linen, and bath and hand towels using regular laundry soap and water or machine wash at 60-90 C (140-194 F) with common household detergent and dry thoroughly.

Out of the total inmates, the jails house over 800 women and 600 juveniles prisoners.

The new guidelines were issued following some reports that under the present situation a huge population of the 42 prisons of Punjab is at grave risk of contracting the coronavirus and any negligence in this regard may explode the virus in jails.

The primary & secondary healthcare department Punjab drafted and issued new ‘interim guidelines to control spread of Covid-19 in prisons’.

“The guidelines provide for the prevention of Covid-19, controlling its outbreak and protecting the health and well-being of all prisoners, staff including cleaning workers, visitors and families of jail staff”, reads an official report.

The P&SHD has dispatched the report to the prisons department for implementation while giving a warning that the population of the 42 jails of Punjab is at grave risk.

“The guidelines must be implemented in order to contain likely exponential spread of Covid-19 in the prisons and respective lock-ups established within the premises of police stations and different courts”, reads the report.

The Punjab government has declared mandatory the inclusion of Covid-19 screening in the general screening of prisoners at the time of entry. It has directed to undertake a risk assessment of all inmates and environment in which they are interacting.

Jail authorities were directed to collect information of prisoners/detainees, visitors, prisons staff on any history of cough, and shortness of breath, patients’ recent travel history and possible contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases in the last 14 days in jail environment, by the visitors or in courts etc.

“Restrict visitors or make arrangements for distributing visitors on calendar days to minimize the chances of infection transmission”, read the guidelines.

The government also imposed certain restrictions on the visitors with recent international travel history or those coming from areas of sustained community transmission.

A detailed daily register of people moving in and out of the prisons should be maintained and mandatory medical screening must be ensured.

The staff and their family members residing within prison premises should also be screened. Any new appointee, transferee or reliever of prison staff should be screened for Covid-19 before joining or relieving the prisons duties.

Any prisoner suspected of having symptoms of the virus shall be separated from others and shifted to the isolation unit. The other prisoners sharing space with the suspected patient should be quarantined in a designated area and will be screened again subject to the satisfaction of the health staff.

The prisoners should be placed in well-ventilated cells or barrack in the jails. The prisons authorities were directed to limit the movement of the prisoners and staff in the corridors and minimize the existing shared space.

“Preferably, prisoners be kept in different cells or in case of barracks ensure to maintain a distance of at least 1-meter among the inmates”, further read the guidelines.

There should be special focus on disinfecting the washing areas and toilets every day and guiding the prisoners to wash hands for at least 20 seconds.

The jail authorities were also directed to make sure hand hygiene before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet and whenever hands look dirty.

Sanitisers should be made available in the cells and barracks, the prisons department was directed.

“To contain spread by droplets, a medical mask should be provided to every prisoner sharing the space in same cells and he should be educated on proper use and disposal of the masks.”

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020