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Introduction to Corona Meter Project

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ‘Covid-19’ a pandemic, and since its outbreak in Egypt, Committee for Justice has worked to identify the vulnerabilities of people deprived of their liberty in prisons and places of detention.

How does ‘Covid-19’ spread?

‘Covid-19’ is an infectious disease that is transmitted from one person to another primarily through the small droplets scattered from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

The likelihood of ‘Covid-19’ outbreak in prisons and places of detention is increased by the nature of indoor living, where those deprived of their liberty are located in close spaces over long periods of time. Even in prisons and places of detention that have not been affected yet, the risk of the outbreak remains high with the arrival of new detainees/prisoners and the daily presence and departure of prison staff members and service providers who are likely to be infected in their communities.

People can be infected with ‘Covid-19’ through two main methods:

  • Breathing droplets that are scattered from the cough or exhalation of an infected person.
  • Touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus, then touching the eyes, nose or mouth of a person.

WHO provides a comprehensive manual on the spread of the virus through both methods.

What are the symptoms of ‘Covid-19’?

‘Covid-19’ may occur without any symptoms, while the most common symptoms are similar to those of influenza and severe colds, including fever, fatigue, dry cough, and shortness/difficulty breathing. In some cases, other unfamiliar symptoms may occur, such as pain, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, loss of ability to smell or taste, or diarrhea.

Signs of ‘Covid-19’ infection are mild for many people who recover completely without the need for special treatment. Some people may become infected and transmit the virus without any symptoms and without feeling unwell, but this does not prevent the infection which can become more serious for others with health problems, such as those with chronic diseases, people with weakened immune systems, and those suffering from poor living conditions.

People deprived of their liberty are among the most vulnerable groups to infection, as the infrastructure of prisons and places of detention renders people vulnerable to disease. Also, they suffer greater contamination risks through the presence and daily departure of police and other staff members who do not take any of the necessary protection measures. Meanwhile, social distancing in detention and prison premises is often impossible to achieve, given the poor conditions in which they live.

In Egypt, prisons and places of detention are overcrowded. Inmates and prisoners lack access to health care services and facilities and suffer from inadequate conditions that fall way behind all international standards and obligations. Hence, the Egyptian authorities must ensure the same level of health care available in the community to detained persons, regardless of any discriminatory considerations as is the case.

Committee for Justice believes that the goal of maintaining health in places of detention is in the interest of people deprived of their liberty, as well as prison staff members, and the community at large. We also believe and that Egypt has an obligation to ensure health care for people in the places of detention, in accordance with the international standards related to the right to health.  The authorities should also pay close attention to the health situation in prisons and places of detention to address and mend existing problems that claim the lives of detainees for various reasons, including problems such as overcrowding and lack of health care, so that the situation does not worsen with the risk of the pandemic outbreak, especially for elder inmates and those with chronic diseases.

Committee for Justice documents and verifies human rights violations inside Egyptian prisons and places of detention and analyzes the conditions of all premises where people are deprived of their liberty, taking into account the circumstances surrounding detention and the policies and practices of the Egyptian authorities regarding detention centers and detainees. In this regard, the organization pays special attention to the health conditions of those deprived of their liberty in high-risk groups amid the outbreak.

In response to the state of emergency to confront ‘Covid-19’, and in line with its documentation and verification methodology, Committee for Justice is gearing its efforts towards collecting information and monitoring the situation in prisons and places of detention, given that the Egyptian government follows a policy of non-disclosure of information and fails to provide real data on the situation or to disclose its strategies for confronting the virus within these institutions.

Corona Meter Platform

Committee for Justice has launched Corona Meter platform to publish the data and information it obtains from its work on monitoring and verifying violations inside the Egyptian places of detention as well as information received from human rights actors with sufficient professionalism and credibility.

In doing so, the organization aims to monitor trends in the spread of  ‘Covid-19’ within prisons and places of detentions, provide information to assess the risk of the virus outbreak in these institutions, and provide information and guidance to guide the preparedness, prevention and response measures in dealing with the pandemic.  We highlight the reality of what detainees in Egyptian prisons and places of detention are suffering as a result of violating their human rights, particularly the right to health.

In identifying suspected and confirmed cases of infection by ‘Covid-19’ inside Egyptian prisons and places of detention, Committee for Justice relied on the WHO-approved measures, definitions set out by the Egyptian Preventive Medicine Sector of the Health Ministry regarding how to deal with the virus in community settings, as well as the special conditions of those deprived of their liberty.

Definitions adopted in ‘Corona Meter’

In light of the ambiguity of the Egyptian state’s strategy in dealing with the virus within prisons and places of detention, its adoption of a security approach in disclosing information about the spread of the virus, its refusal to cooperate and inform the families of the victims and the public opinion about the real number of infections, its failure to disclose the results of the analyses, if conducted, as well as not taking urgent action with cases showing symptoms of infection, and avoiding to undertake further medical analysis in contravention to the World Health Organization advice, in such a context, Committee for Justice adopts definitions by the WHO of suspected and confirmed cases, which in turn are subject to regular revision.

Thereof, Committee for Justice considers a case to be ‘suspected’ of contracting ‘Covid-19’ among those deprived of their liberty, if:

  • The patient suffers from any acute respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath, and/or high temperature (≥38), with no other causes.
  • This suffering coincides with any of the following conditions, within 14 days before symptoms appear:
  • The patient has a history of travel to, or residence in, a state/region with extensive community penetration, or limited local transmission, of the ‘Covid-19’.
  • The patient was in contact with a confirmed case of ‘Covid -19’.
  • The patient was in contact with a person with any acute respiratory symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, high temperature ≥38 degrees), and it was associated with a place or area with an epidemic outbreak of ‘Covid -19’, and has not been laboratory confirmed.
  • The patient is a person deprived of their liberty and was present at one of the detention facilities where a confirmed or possible ‘Covid -19’ was found.
  • The patient is a person deprived of their liberty and has severe respiratory illness that he/she must be admitted to hospital, with no alternative diagnosis explaining their symptoms.

If a suspected case is not verified accordingly, we consider whether two of the following clinical characteristics apply to any person:

  1. Fever or severe respiratory symptoms, or both.
  2. Regular, or normal, chest-based CT scans have diagnostic characteristics of ‘Covid-19’ infection.
  3. Natural or low number of white blood cells “Total Leukocyte Count”, with a decreased number of lymphocytes ‘lymphocytopenia’.

Also, Committee for Justice considers a case as ‘confirmed’ of contracting ‘Covid-19’ among those deprived of their liberty, if:

  • If information indicating injury is provided from reliable sources of the institution (relatives of victims, lawyers, witnesses, or individuals cooperating with us).
  • If analysis of detention authorities’ practices and their procedures in dealing with the suspected case raises a strong suspicion.
  • If there is an extensive prevalence of ‘Covid-19’ related symptoms in the place of detention in question.
  • If the health status of individuals deprived of their liberty in the detention facility makes them among high-risk groups for ‘Covid-19’ infection.
  • If the results of medical tests (blood tests) and/or a CT/normal scan – if performed and if the victim’s relatives/lawyer are able to obtain them- confirm the detainee’s infection by ‘Covid-19’[1].

Also, Committee for Justice identifies an infection to be ‘confirmed’ if we receive from our sources:

  • News of a detainee being transferred to the isolation hospital and detained there, and we have suspected their injury before then.
  • News about the result of a victim’s diagnosis by the prison’s doctor or by a physician of a hospital to which he was transferred.
  • News of the death of a detainee after showing severe ‘Covid-19’ related symptoms, and they were suspected of contracting the virus but were taken to the hospital at a late stage, after their condition had deteriorated, all while such patient showing no prior indications of other serious diseases.
  • News of severe symptoms showing among detainees who have been found to be in contact with a confirmed case of ‘Covid-19’ whether such case was a detainee, a police officer, or a staff member of the detention center.

Committee for Justice Position

Committee for Justice reminds the Egyptian authorities of their commitment to provide information to all persons deprived of their liberty – and society as a whole – about preventive health measures within prisons and places of detention and to enable civil society representatives’ access to detention centers to provide assistance and see the reality of the situation therein.

All restrictions on the rights of those deprived of their liberty must be consistent with the international standards and principles of human rights, particularly legitimacy, proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination. The authorities should also take measures to prevent the pandemic from spreading within places detention. Such measures must enjoy legitimacy and respect for human rights; they must protect detainees and inmates’ non-derogable rights and ensure maximum transparency and continued monitoring of their application.

Isolation or quarantine measures in places of detention must be legal, proportionate, necessary, time-limited, supervised and reviewed, imposed only if alternative preventive measures are not taken by the authorities to prevent or respond to the spread of the virus, and should not lead to solitary confinement. The departments of detention facilities must also inform those deprived of their liberty of their status.

Committee for Justice has warned about the seriousness of the health conditions inside Egyptian prisons and places of detention, which have claimed the lives of dozens of people deprived of their liberty, and violated the rights of hundreds of others as stated in its annual report.  Also, in several instances, the organization called on the Egyptian authorities to take urgent measures to protect prisoners and detainees. We advised on measures to reduce overcrowding inside prisons and detention facilities, criticized the actions taken by the Egyptian government, and called on them to declare the reality of the number of cases inside prisons and places of detention.

For its part, Committee for Justice noted that the Egyptian authorities neither implemented serious health measures in accordance with international standards in order to manage the risk of the spread of ‘Covid-19’ infections inside prisons and places of detention, nor did it provide those deprived of their liberty -and suspected of contracting the virus- with medical examination in accordance with WHO procedures in dealing with confirmed and suspected cases.

Those deprived of their liberty — suspected or confirmed to have contracted ‘Covid-19’ must have full access to urgent and specialized health care, without undue delay. Such cases must be isolated in appropriate and dignified conditions, and special attention should be paid to the mental health of persons deprived of their liberty under the pandemic.

Committee for Justice is interested in opening dialogue channels with the Egyptian government and civil society organizations to address the effects of the state of emergency, and to find possible and appropriate alternatives to resolve the deteriorating conditions inside prisons and places of detention.

[1] The Egyptian protocol has adopted this procedure in dealing with suspected cases.