Covid positive staff not being ignored says prisons department

Prison department insists that staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 are not being ignored.
Prison department insists that staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 are not being ignored.
Image: 123RF/ SAKHORN SAENGTONGSAMARNSIN

The department of correctional services (DCS) has denied allegations that staff who tested positive for Covid-19 at the East London prison have been ignored by their bosses.

Last week a number of officials who tested positive complained that they were not receiving the necessary support from the department, and that their area managers were not making any effort to visit them, saying instead they talked to them only via teleconferencing.

The officials said they even had to bring their own blankets, cutlery and food to their quarantine site.

The department said on Friday negative reporting was not helping the situation and was making life tough for those affected.

National spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the department's management was frequently visiting and checking on the quarantined officials.

“The deputy regional commissioner was on the line with the isolated officials and an arrangement was made that a physical visit will be done as additional gear is required when going inside a contaminated space or a place housing positive cases,” Nxumalo said.

“It is unfortunate and quite disturbing that a story ran without us being asked as a department to provide a response on the issue.

“Even more challenging are the inaccuracies contained in the story and this has a negative effect not only on the image of the institution, but we could be portrayed as a non-caring government.”

Nxumalo said the department was willing to assist.

“When in isolation, you are treated like somehow residing at home, hence you are expected to provide meals, but should there be a registered need for assistance, the department is ready and willing to assist on such cases.

“Sadly, such a request was never registered through various engagements and the liaison official who is in constant contact with the team was never apprised of such.”

On Friday, the Dispatch fielded a number of calls from concerned department officials in East London, reporting that they are being stigmatised and turned away at a number of shops.

The officials mentioned a number of grocery stores and butcheries where they had been accused of carrying the virus.

We are being stigmatised, we are accused of spreading this virus across East London and we are not allowed at shops because of this uniform we are wearing

“We are being stigmatised, we are accused of spreading this virus across East London and we are not allowed at shops because of this uniform we are wearing,” one of the officials, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

Nxumalo said: “We have received reports of stigmatisation of our officials by members of society in East London. It is wrong and must be condemned. The country is making good progress in responding to Covid-19, but stigmatisation will reverse all the gains achieved.”

He said the department was working with other stakeholders, like health department officials who had been visiting the centre, “advising the team on what we have been implementing as prevention measures, and how best we can contain any further spread”.

“The type of care being given to all those who have tested positive is prioritised. The type of monitoring done is to ensure that those who become distressed can be taken to an outside hospital as a matter of urgency.”

Five new Covid-19 cases were reported in SA prisons at the weekend, but none of them were inmates.

Nxumalo said the total of confirmed cases in SA prisons was now 99.

Of those, 56 were inmates.

The new cases are in Limpopo, East London and Worcester.

The breakdown provided by the department shows that the Eastern Cape now has 31 officials and 56 inmates positive. The Western Cape has nine positive officials, Limpopo two and Pretoria head office one.

“Screening of officials and those accessing DCS premises remains in force to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 in our centres across the country.

“We will continue working towards the wellbeing of officials and inmates as their health is our priority,” Nxumalo said.


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Unpacking SA's coronavirus numbers. Produced and edited by Luke Charter

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