49 South African prisoners catch Coronavirus

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The number of prisoners that have tested positive for Covid-19 has risen by 49 cases, following an outbreak at the East London Correctional Centre, the national correctional services department has confirmed.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) said the rise brought the total number of inmate cases to 53, while 23 officials had also tested positive for the virus at the prison.

St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth also had its first confirmed case after an official tested positive, while another official at the DCS head office in Tshwane has also been infected.

DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told News24 that contact tracing is being done with regards to the official from St Albans. At this stage, though, there is no link between St Albans and East London.

On Sunday, Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola announced that 23 officials and three inmates had contracted Covid-19, adding that the 26 cases were detected at the female section of the facility.

Mass screenings

“The positive cases follow mass screenings that the Eastern Cape region embarked upon at the Medium C Female Centre after the first positive case was recorded on 6 April,” Lamola said on Sunday after visiting the centre.

It is believed that the first case at the prison emanated from an official who attended a funeral where she interacted with people from overseas. The official later tested positive for Covid-19.

The second positive case was confirmed on 8 April after an official, who sought out the services of a private laboratory, received her results.

Mass screening and testing were rolled out at the facility and, by Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases stood at 77.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) screened 268 inmates at the facility and tested 30 who showed symptoms of Covid-19 on 8 and 9 April, while 266 officials working at the prison were also tested.

“As the number of infected people increases in correctional services, the containment and treatment pillar of the Disaster Management Response Strategy of the department has been activated. This is looking at the rapid identification of laboratory-confirmed cases, the isolation of those who test positive and management of the pandemic within our centres,” Nxumalo said.

“Only two out of 243 centres have reported positive cases of the virus thus far. Therefore, it remains critical that prevention measures remain in force… to keep other centres Covid-19 free.

Moving forward

“Valuable lessons have been learned at East London and this will influence our disaster response plan moving forward.

“However, it must be acknowledged that, as the virus continues to spread in communities, correctional centres within the same localities will remain vulnerable.”

Nxumalo added that officials attending gatherings and movements from their residences to places of work are receiving attention, in addition to screening.