Almost 10,000 inmates released as Philippines scrambles to slow coronavirus spread

Nearly 10,000 prison inmates have been released in the Philippines as the country races to halt coronavirus infections in its overcrowded jails.

The move follows a directive to lower courts to release those awaiting trial in prison because they could not afford bail, Associate Supreme Court Justice Mario Victor Leonen told reporters.

“The court is very much aware of the congested situation in our prisons,” Mr Leonen told reporters as he announced the release of 9,731 inmates.

COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at some of the country’s most overcrowded jails, affecting both inmates as well as corrections personnel.

Social distancing is all but impossible in the country’s prison system, where cells are sometimes filled to five times their capacity.


Social distancing is all but impossible in the country’s prison system, where cells are sometimes filled to five times their capacity due to inadequate infrastructure and a slow-moving and overburdened judicial system.

Overcrowding has become an even greater problem since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a drug crackdown in 2016 that has seen thousands sent to prison.

Among those which have reported outbreaks are the Quezon City Jail in the capital Manila, a facility so crowded that inmates take turns sleeping on staircases and open-air basketball courts.

The worst outbreaks so far are at two prisons in the central island of Cebu, where two city jails have announced a combined 348 infections among more than 8,000 inmates as of Friday.

The outbreaks have fuelled calls from rights groups for the early release of prisoners charged with non-violent offences as well as the sick and elderly.

The Philippines has reported nearly 9,000 coronavirus infections and 603 deaths.

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Coronavirus cases in Poland exceed 10,000 weeks before election

WARSAW (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus infections surpassed 10,000 in Poland on Wednesday, the highest number in post-communist central Europe, as it slowly eases restrictions on public life ahead of a presidential election set for May 10.

FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek/File Photo

Poland was among the first in Europe to impose stringent curbs on public life such as travel bans, school closures and a shutdown of its borders to try to contain the pandemic.

A deputy health minister said on Wednesday the rise of new infections “had been contained to a degree”.

“We are still seeing increases,” Wojciech Andrusiewicz, a ministry spokesman, told reporters. “What we can achieve is to level them off. If it wasn’t for the restrictions, we could be seeing 30,000-40,000 people infected.”

Poland has reported 404 deaths, compared to nearly 25,000 in Italy and nearly 21,000 in France.

Some 16-17% of the infections were medical workers, Andrusiewicz said, underscoring problems in Poland’s underfunded healthcare system.

The presidential election has emerged as a contentious issue during the pandemic, with the ruling nationalists insisting the ballot be held on time, despite resistance from the opposition.

Critics accuse the Law and Justice (PiS) government of putting its own political agenda ahead of public health, with opinion polls suggesting its ally, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, is likely to win the ballot.

PiS is trying to organise a postal vote instead of at polling booths but its efforts are mired in parliamentary procedure and have faced criticism from postal workers’ unions.

Amid the political rifts, PiS started easing restrictions on public life this week, reopening parks and increasing the number of people allowed in shops from Monday. The government also announced it may re-open hotels next month.

Government forecasters expect the economy to contract by between 1% and 4.5% this year, Poland’s first recession since it shed communism in 1989.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Nick Macfie

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