Mass testing at Cebu City jail after inmate who died tests positive for coronavirus

Ryan Macasero
Mass testing at Cebu City jail after inmate who died tests positive for coronavirus
Two inmates and two jail guards test positive for coronavirus


CEBU CITY, Philippines – Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella has ordered the city’s health department to begin mass testing at the Cebu City Jail on Monday April 20, after an inmate who died over the weekend tested positive for coronavirus.

The test results came back on Sunday, April 19, the same day the inmate died.

The patient was a 41-year-old male who complained of difficulty breathing on Saturday, April 18, prompting authorities to bring him to the hospital where he was swabbed to check for coronavirus. He died the next day.

“We’ve instructed our city health officers to conduct massive lab testing of all inmates in city jail,” Labella said in Cebuano on Monday, April 20.

“Of course, we’ll conduct contact tracing with everyone who interacted wtih the inmate,” he added.

So far, another inmate and two jail guards tested positive for the virus, all of them asymptomatic.

The jail – which was built to hold 1,500 inmates – has 6,000 inmates in its male dormitory, outnumbering the inmate populations in urban centers like the Manila City Jail, which has 4,888 inmates; and Quezon City Jail, which has 3,600 inmates.

At least 9 inmates and 9 jail personnel from the Quezon City Jail tested positive for coronavirus, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) reported on April 17. (READ: 18 Quezon City jail inmates, personnel test positive for coronavirus)

Jails are among the most vulnerable areas during a pandemic, due to their crowded conditions. (READ: ‘Takot na takot kami’: While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

Recommended physical distancing measures are nearly impossible to enforce in overpopulated prisons. Advocacy groups have been campaigning for the early release of sickly and the elderly prisoners to decongest the jails. In a bid to decongest jails the Supreme Court on Monday ordered judges to release prisoners who fall under a 2014 guideline on jail decongestion.

As of posting Cebu City has 161 coronavirus cases, comprising the bulk of the 191 cases in Central Visayas. Cebu City is currently under enhanced community quarantine as a measure to stop the outbreak from spreading further. 

As of Monday, April 20, the Philippines has  6,459 coronavirus cases, with 428 deaths and 613 recoveries. 


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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.