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Due to shortage, prison inmates make face masks so people outside don't go without one during COVID-19

Believed to have been first implemented in India by the state of Kerala, other states have followed suit.

Due to shortage, prison inmates make face masks so people outside don't go without one during COVID-19
Image Source: Twitter/Pinarayi Vijayan

With people scrambling to stock up on a lifetime's worth of essential items in the past few weeks, many parts of the world have been left to come up with ways to solve the shortage of everything from hand sanitizers to face masks. Governments are under extreme pressure to supply such items to the public as more cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported. However, with manufacturers unable to meet the demand on time, states in India are enlisting the help of prison inmates to speed up the process. Believed to have been first implemented by the state of Kerala, this initiative has since been adopted by other states as well.


Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, announced details of the initiative in a tweet over the weekend which also included photographs of the masks manufactured by the inmates. In light of the shortage, directions were given to engage the prisons in the State in manufacturing masks. It has commenced on a war footing basis. Today, the Prison officials of Thiruvananthapuram Jail have handed over the first batch, he tweeted. According to Deccan Herald, the initiative is a collaboration between tailoring units attached to prisons in seven districts in Kerala and the in-house Drug Bank (IHDB) of the government SAT Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.


Kerala experienced an acute scarcity of masks as soon as cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state with many medical stores displaying "no stock" boards. Meanwhile, there were also allegations that some were selling single-use masks for much high prices than usual. IHDB chief pharmacist Biju A revealed that the two-layer cotton masks made by inmates could be used continuously for five to six hours. They can also be washed and reused, he said.


Following the success of the initiative, the state turned its attention towards the shortage of hand sanitizers. Director General of Prisons Rishi Raj Singh revealed earlier this week that inmates have been enlisted to manufacture hand sanitizers. However, they've hit a hurdle in getting spirit-based raw materials which is proving to be an obstacle in producing sanitizers on a large scale. DIG of Prisons Santosh Kumar explained that the inmates were involved in soap and lotion making, although mostly for in-house use. The sanitizers they produce now will also be first allocated for in-house use before it is supplied to the public through prison outlets.


The face masks and hand sanitizers will be sold for lower prices than those in the market, he said. Kumar added that over 5,000 masks were now being manufactured daily at around 25 prisons in Kerala. Currently, the masks are mainly being supplied to the Kerala Health Department and other state and central government institutions but given the scarcity of the commodity in the open market, a limited sale to the public is also under consideration. 


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