The National Institute for Communicable Diseases will on Wednesday start screening and testing every prisoner and every official living and working at the East London Female Correctional Centre which recorded the first South African prisons coronavirus case, Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said.
The mass testing comes after an official working at the correctional facility tested positive for the coronavirus.
Covid-19 is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets emanating from the body by sneezing or coughing, the World Health Organisation advises.
According to Nxumalo the officials “who came into contact” with the infected prisons official have been instructed to “isolate themselves at home and are waiting for their own test results”.
Correctional centres have been identified as high-risk areas for possible coronavirus infections. The Department of Correctional Services has minimised all movement and activities of prisoners across the country.
This includes a moratorium on visiting hours. Court appearances are only reserved in serious circumstances.
Contingency plans were made to handle any additional loss of staff and wardens.
Nkosinathi Theledi, Secretary-General of prisons union Popcru, said he reminded the Correctional Services commissioner to adhere to government’s protocol and “not wait for issues to erupt and cause chaos”.
The human rights group Sonke Gender Justice disagrees with the international trend of curbing or stopping visiting hours, arguing that prisoners cannot meet their legal representatives and that visits from family and friends are important for the prisoners’ mental health.
What should rather be implemented, the rights group says, is the active decrease in the number of people in prisons – like releasing elderly detainees and those serving short sentences for non-violent crimes.
By Tuesday, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced 1,749 infections and a total of 13 deaths. DM
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