Spread of Covid-19 Delta variant fuels deep concern for Egypt's prison population

Spread of Covid-19 Delta variant fuels deep concern for Egypt's prison population
Despite pledges from government officials, there is little sign that an immunisation campaign is underway in Egypt's prisons, raising fears for the vulnerable population as the highly-infectious Delta variant surges through the country.
2 min read
07 September, 2021
Egyptian officials have warned that the peak of fourth wave of the virus fuelled by the Delta variant is weeks away [Getty - file photo]

Calls have grown to save Egypt’s unvaccinated prison population, with former political detainees and families of current inmates putting five demands to Cairo, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language edition, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

These include the unconditional release of prisoners aged over 60, those who have completed half their prison sentences, prisoners held over an unpaid debt, or have spent more than six months in administrative detention without trial.

They also demand those who have spent more than two years in administrative detention to be released.

As the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 rips through Egypt, officials have predicted a fourth wave of the virus will peak in a matter of weeks.

The government in May pledged that prisoners would receive both jabs during a parliamentary meeting.

Hala Zayed, the country's health minister, said in a recent television interview that vaccines would be provided to those living in closed spaces, such as the elderly in care homes and prisoners.

But the interior ministry has given neither any signal that a vaccination campaign is underway nor offered statistics on the number of infections, deaths, or recoveries in Egypt's jails.

Both international and Egyptian law has provisions defending prisoner's rights to equal access to health services, including vaccines.

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Arab countries such as Morocco have procured and administered vaccines to large swathes of their prison populations, while Bahrain and Kuwait have launched their own initiatives.

Egypt has instituted severe measures to combat the spread of coronavirus in prisons, such as banning prison visits to family members for more than three months during the virus' first wave early in 2020.

But Human Rights Watch released a report that year detailing several Covid-19 outbreaks in Egyptian prisons amid a severe information blackout in the country.

The number of prisons in Egypt has proliferated over the past decade, with 35 added to the pre-revolution figure of 43, as the country has sunk deeper into authoritarianism.

The country’s Egypt’s prison population is estimated to number 120,000 people as of March 2021, according to the Beirut-based Arab Network for Research and Publishing. At least 65,000 people are believed to be political prisoners, while at least 37,000 are being held under administrative detention.