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“COVID” in Lebanon: Roumieh Prison in a Pandemic Predicament

Myriam Sweidan
Lebanese Journalist
September 14, 2020
A large number of Coronavirus cases were recorded inside Roumieh prison, infections spreading among both inmates and security personnel alike. The response from concerned authorities, especially the Health Ministry, is to attempt to diminish from the gravity of the news, denying its status as a fresh new crisis devastating Lebanon.

“We, the inmates of Roumieh prison in the detained Block ‘B’ send this cry to you. The pandemic has spread through the prison. Our lives are at risk after two Coronavirus cases in this building have been confirmed…” This was the outcry by the prisoners in a video clip filmed from Roumieh Prison, during a protest against the poor health conditions inside the cells, which was followed by them breaking the prison doors.

This was not the first set of demonstrations held by the prisoners of Roumieh in Lebanon, nor was it their first outcry against the deteriorating health conditions and absence of minimum hygienic standards amid the Coronavirus pandemic. However, this recent prisoners’ riot took place after it was confirmed that 13 detainees and nine security personnel had contracted the virus, according to a statement made by the Internal Security Forces.

Despite the fact that the concerned authorities, headed by the Health Ministry, are trying to diminish from the gravity of this news, declining its status as a fresh crisis that is devastating Lebanon, they stated that the prison’s administration has transferred the infected inmates to a building equipped for quarantine, insisting that the situation is now under control in the prison. They also stated that most of the infections were “asymptomatic,” although leaked information and video clips filmed by the prisoners on the inside exposed that the opposite was in fact true. 

Hundreds of prisoners live in endless fear and utter chaos behind Roumieh’s bars, under devastating inhumane conditions: the cells they are forced into lack even the minimum standards of sanitation and hygiene, nor health/medical standards, let alone the danger in their sheer overcrowding.

Sources have stated that there are around 18 cases of people suffering from abnormally high body temperatures, vomiting, or diarrhea in Bloc “B” in the prison compound. The prisoners have not yet been quarantined, under the excuse that they are suffering from these symptoms simply due to the scorching hot weather. It should be noted that this Bloc holds 750 inmates.

Lawyer and human rights activist Diala Haidar explains to Daraj that Lebanese prisons have been witnessing a humanitarian crisis even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The overcrowded prisons and delayed sentences against prisoners, who in some cases spend a period in prison equal to their sentence or even longer, pose a serious issue…“There is a dire necessity for state approval to release those who were detained without trial, and to impose safe distancing among other prisoners in the cells,” Haidar stresses.

Our Status Quo

Even though this probable scenario, of an epidemic outbreak in Lebanese prisons similar to the case in Egypt and other countries, is fraught with dangers, Hamad Hasan, the Minister of Public Health in the Caretaker government, insists that the state’s efforts have been enormous and sufficient, and that the real problem lies in the Lebanese citizens way of handling COVID-19. It seems as though he is either forgetting or ignoring the economic crisis that is currently casting an incredibly grim shadow on the already inept medical sector, a sector that has been incapable of providing sufficient ICU beds or adequate medical treatment for the infected cases. This is especially in prison clinics, which, according to sources, have no medication to offer those who are sick but “Panadol”, to reduce their fever.

“Painting the picture as if there is mismanagement and chaos in handling the pandemic outbreak in Roumieh is inaccurate. We have a plan and two well-equipped hospitals, and we are working on preparing them even more. We are also working on transferring the infected inmates to one of the buildings for quarantine, and we are observing the cases of those who have symptoms closely,” Hasan stressed in a recent statement.

 
21,044,479

Recovered Cases

929,059

Casualties

29,216,405

Infection Cases Worldwide

“The number of confirmed deaths in Lebanon is 2.5% below the global average for those over 65, 90% of which were already suffering from chronic and incurable diseases,” He continued.

While the daily number of infections in Lebanon range between 500 and 600 cases, Hasan warns of an alarming surge in these numbers in the coming fall as the wave of Coronavirus collides with the influenza wave, and stresses that the rise in infections is a natural and expected result since reopening the country.”

Coronavirus in the Arab Region and Worldwide

It is worth mentioning that the World Health Organization (WHO) has registered a record number of COVID-19 infections worldwide that have surpassed 300,000 cases in a day, noting that India, the United States, and Brazil recorded the highest increase, while some other countries imposed lockdown after the sudden surge in the infection rate.

In Israel, for example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday evening, September 13, the second lockdown to take effect for three weeks owing to the alarming surge in the Coronavirus infections. On the other hand, the Palestinian Interior Ministry confirmed that they will impose a total lockdown at any moment, after finding Coronavirus infections inside the camps.

WHO also sounded the alarm about “the most two severe months” in the battle against “Coronavirus,” referring to a predicted significant increase in October and November 2020.

Reuters statistics have shown that more than 28.93 million people contracted the Coronavirus worldwide, while the total number of deaths has reached 921,437.

According to these statistics, the cases spread across more than 210 countries and regions since the first infected case was discovered in Wuhan, China, last December…These findings were revealed to the backdrop of international committees criticizing the mass failure of political leaders and their refusal to listen to the warnings and concerns surrounding the gravity of this pandemic, which has forced the world into “a state of chaos.”

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