Mass testing of prisoners and warders after official tests positive

Eastern Cape inmates and warders will be tested from Wednesday.
Eastern Cape inmates and warders will be tested from Wednesday.
Image: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN

More than 20,000 inmates and almost 5,000 warders in the Eastern Cape will be tested for the coronavirus from Wednesday as the department of correctional services embarks on a mass testing campaign across SA.

This comes after an official from the West Bank medium C female prison in East London tested positive for Covid-19, taking the number of infected people to 32 in the province by the time of writing on Tuesday.

This raised questions around the safety of officials and inmates at Eastern Cape prisons, with insiders claiming they had not been given masks, gloves and sanitisers, something the department dismissed as untrue.

The official has been hospitalised.

There are fears that more warders and inmates might be infected as the official and her boyfriend, who works at the maximum prison section, had been in contact with countless law enforcers and lawbreakers since last week.

The virus would spread easily among inmates as they have to share overcrowded cells which make it impossible for them to keep a physical distance of at least a metre apart.

Correctional services national spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told DispatchLIVE on Tuesday that all inmates and officials in SA would be screened and tested as the department embarked on a massive testing campaign from Wednesday.

He said in the Eastern Cape there were 20,569 inmates and 4,984 officials that would be tested.

An official told DispatchLIVE that only managers had been given masks and gloves.“But us, the people who work toe-to-toe with inmates, we were not given those.

“They only provided us with those things after someone was confirmed positive.

“One of the people close to the person who tested positive has been in contact with a lot of people since last week. It was only on Sunday that they told him to work at the tower post. How many officials and inmates has he been in contact with?”

Another official based at the Wellington prison in Mthatha said they were given masks and gloves last week.

“But when I was posted at the Mthatha General Hospital I did not get any of that. Our lives are at risk because we come into contact with inmates and other people on a daily basis,” the insider said.

Allaying fears, Nxumalo said precautionary measures had been taken which included officials who came into contact with the official who tested positive being identified and asked to self-isolate at home while awaiting testing.

“The hysteria being created by either inmates or officials is aimed at dominating the environment, thus placing the entire nation on the edge of what may look like an emerging crisis while reality is the exact opposite.

“The allegations raised are distant from reality,” he said, adding that they had ensured personal protective equipment was availed at all their facilities.

“Improving personal and environmental hygiene, provision of personal equipment, sanitisation and decontamination interventions is what we have been doing and continue to do in East London and Mthatha, hence we have to dispute the allegations made.”

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the 21-day national lockdown, he took away all visitation rights of convicts as a measure to prevent the spread of the feared virus and flatten the curve.

However, that might not have worked as there are fears that the official might have infected the inmates.

Nxumalo said a “team of experts and professionals” has been appointed to conduct a scenario planning exercise.

“They will be jointly working with other security cluster partners to explore and consider different crisis and emergency possibilities in order to craft appropriate and operationally responsive interventions should the epidemic reach unimagined proportions in the country.

“We have also procured mobile quarantine sites which will assist to isolate those who may have acquired the virus while awaiting to be moved to outside hospitals,” he said.


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