March 20, 2020 / 4:00 PM / 11 days ago

Convicts help Serbia make surgical masks amid coronavirus

NIS, Serbia (Reuters) - Convicts are helping Serbia manufacture surgical masks and other protective gear following a surge in demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Convicts manufacture surgical masks and other protective gear to help cover the huge demand triggered by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in correctional prison in Nis, Serbia, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

In a correctional facility in the southern city of Nis on Friday, about 120 convicts were cutting and sewing cloth and churning out hundreds of face masks. They also produce cotton work clothes for medical staff.

The convicts’ work has been praised by President Aleksandar Vucic.

Since the coronavirus spread to Serbia earlier this month, face masks have been a sought-after commodity in the Balkan country and are still in short supply.

Dejan Carevic, head of the justice ministry’s department for penal sanctions, said the masks were mainly used to cover the needs of the department’s staff but any surplus was handed over to the state for distribution elsewhere.

The production of protective clothing began in four correction facilities before the coronavirus spread to Serbia, but in recent weeks the output has risen threefold to about 3,000 pieces per day.

“They (convicts) could not wait to demonstrate they could be useful and ... in a way atone for whatever they are in there for,” Carevic told Reuters in Belgrade.

Although many convicts volunteer to work, not all qualify as they must first be cleared to use sewing machines, Carevic said.

Serbia has shut borders, airports and internal passenger transport to curb the spread of the virus. It has also introduced a night curfew and ordered the elderly to stay indoors. In line with a state of emergency imposed on Sunday, it has also deployed the military at its borders.

Serbia has 118 confirmed coronavirus cases and has recorded no deaths from the virus.

Reporting by Fedja Grulovic and Branko Filipovic; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Timothy Heritage

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