U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin identifying older and medically at-risk inmates for release to home confinement, as officials address the spread of the novel coronavirus inside the agency’s 122 facilities.

Barr’s directive came as two federal jails in Manhattan and Brooklyn had each reported their first confirmed cases of COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, and the Justice Department faced increasing calls to reduce the number of vulnerable inmates who might contract the virus.

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