May 13, 2020 / 12:28 AM / 16 days ago

Coronavirus cases spike in second Colombian prison

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Half the prisoners at a jail in the Colombian city Leticia, near the Amazonian borders of Brazil and Peru, have tested positive for the coronavirus, the latest example of the threats facing the region’s prisons as they confront the pandemic.

Relatives of prisoners take part in a protest in front of La Picota prison against overcrowding in the country's prisons, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bogota, Colombia May 12, 2020. Sign reads: "Forbidden to surrender. They are prisoners, not dead". REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Eighty-nine of 180 inmates and one staff member at the jail, located in the capital of Colombia’s Amazonas province, have tested positive, the national prison agency INPEC said on Tuesday.

The outbreak in the prison is counted among 743 cases reported in Amazonas, one of the country’s most sparsely populated provinces.

At least 25 people in the province have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to Colombia’s National Health Institute.

Amazonas has a population of around 66,000 people. Colombian capital Bogota, which is home to more than 8 million people, has reported 4,563 cases of the coronavirus.

President Ivan Duque said special containment measures would be taken for the Leticia jail, though he did not give details. Colombia would further militarize its closed border, sending troops to crossing points to prevent imported cases in Amazonas, Duque added, as well as distribute additional medical supplies to the province.

Across the border, Brazil’s identically named Amazonas state said in April its health system was overwhelmed by the pandemic, with all available intensive care beds and ventilators occupied.

State capital Manaus, a city of 2 million people located in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon, has been hit particularly hard by the virus, with mass burials needed to keep up with soaring deaths.

The outbreak at the Leticia jail is the second major one in a Colombian prison. The prison in the central city of Villavicencio, in Meta province, has also reported high infections, with some 838 inmates and staff struck by the illness.

Infection numbers in the two prisons are higher than many of the country’s medium-sized cities.

It was not immediately possible to reach either the mayor of Leticia or the government of Amazonas province.

Colombia’s air force has sent disinfectant supplies to Leticia to fight the spread of the virus, as well as 18 medical and military personnel.

The country’s 132 jails hold more than 121,000 prisoners.

Colombia, which has a population of around 50 million, has reported more than 12,270 coronavirus infections and over 490 deaths related to COVID-19.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned this week that growth of coronavirus infections in crowded and unhygienic prisons in Latin America and the United States was a source of grave concern.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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