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COVID19: Qatar confirms coronavirus in jail but denies widespread outbreak

The government of Qatar has confirmed 12 coronavirus cases in its central prison, but denied reports of a widespread outbreak, saying all infected patients had been “transferred immediately” to a specialised hospital, isolating them from others.

Qatar issued the statement late on Monday following a person’s Rights Watch (HRW) report, which warned about the spread of the disease, also referred to as COVID-19, inside the jail complex potentially becoming “a public health disaster.”

Qatar’s communications office said the report of an epidemic “is false”, adding that there are no fatalities among the prison population, which prisoners were being given health services “equal” to the remainder of the country’s residents.

The statement added that of the 12 prisoners with the disease, two had reached the “acute phase” of the illness and were receiving “first-class healthcare”.

“The Human Rights Watch account is predicated on unfounded rumours and speculation from alittle number of unverified interviews, amplifying falsehoods and irresponsibly redirecting attention faraway from the continued health response.”

As of Monday, Qatar’s health ministry reported a tally so far of 33,969 cases of coronavirus nationwide, of which 4,899 have recovered. a minimum of 15 people have died.

Earlier on Monday, HRW released a report detailing complaints within the country’scentral prison, including overcrowding and limited access to basic medical aid , especially among older prisoners and people with underlying health conditions.

“People are sleeping on the ground , within the [prison] mosque, within the library; and everybody is frightened of one another , we do not know who could infect us,” one among the six prisoners interviewed by HRW was quoted as saying.

“At a time once we should be isolated from one another , we are being kept like animals during a shed,” the prisoner said. His allegations were corroborated by other prisoners who were interviewed.

One of the prisoners also reported receiving reports that a minimum of 47 inmates were infected – a claim disputed by the govt .

HRW said authorities should take urgent measures to guard prisoners also as prison staff from getting infected.

“Qatari authorities have the facility to scale back the harm, but they have to act quickly and decisively,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

The rights group also urged Qatari authorities to think about early release of low-risk detainees, including those in pretrial detention for nonviolent and lesser offences, or inmates whose continued detention was similarly “unnecessary or unjustified”.
Prisoners at high risk of great effects from the virus, like older people and people with underlying health conditions, should even be considered for early release, it said.

In response, Qatar said that in April, the country’s leader, Sheikh Tamim, had pardoned quite 500 inmates “considerably reducing” the country’s prison population.

Since mid-March, Qatar’s public health and security authorities have also implemented “strict control measures”, including regular health check-ups and testing, to guard inmates and limit the spread of the virus, the govt added.

“Personal protective equipment like gloves and masks are distributed to all or any inmates, and private and community spaces are sanitised on a daily basis.”

“Qatar treats anyone detained in its prisons with respect and dignity in line with international standards.”

In late March, UN diplomat for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had urged governments round the world to also protect the physical and psychological state of prisoners amid the pandemic.

She described the “potentially catastrophic” consequences of neglecting the duty to guard the health of individuals in custody and urged governments to “act now to stop further loss of life among detainees and staff.”

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