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How this Jail in Mali has Kept COVID-19 at Bay

Mali’s largest jail is a squalid and overcrowded colonial-era throwback that in theory is an open invitation to coronavirus. Instead, staff at Bamako Central Prison say that so far they’ve kept the dreaded virus at bay, thanks to time-honoured techniques of hygiene and self-help. Outside the penitentiary’s ochre walls, the Malian capital has registered most of Mali’s 2,567 infections and 75 deaths. Inside, the number of recorded cases is precisely zero. Hand cleanliness, temperature checks for visitors and an innovative scheme for inmates to make face masks have been key. There is every reason to be vigilant. The prison is an ideal breeding ground for coronavirus. In other West African countries, coronavirus cases in overcrowded prisons have provoked severe tensions. Thirty-one people died in a prison riot in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in April, for example, shortly after the city’s overcrowded jail registered its first case. In Mali’s Bamako Central Prison, officers transferred about 600 inmates to another jail in the city’s suburbs to reduce overcrowding. Some prisoners also received a presidential pardon. But even with those measures, the prison remains hugely overcrowded, mostly because of the vast number of people held in pre-trial detention.