By Khuthala Nandipha
21 officials and three inmates have tested positive to the Coronavirus at the Medium C Female Centre following tests on Wednesday. This brings the total to 26. There are 269 offenders at the East London Medium C Female Centre and two inmates have babies. Loved ones of the two offenders have been requested to fetch the two babies while the process to release the babies under their care is underway.
32 officials had been in self-quarantine last week after they were in contact with the first case of Corona at the prison who tested positive in early April. The official had attended a funeral where she interacted with people from overseas. She had infected one official prior to these results. The numbers are expected to grow considerably as 73 officials and 268 inmates have been tested in ongoing mass testing from Wednesday conducted by the Institute for Communicable Diseases. The NICD is tracing all those who were in contact with officials who tested positive so that they can self-quarantine until they are tested and cleared.
Speaking during his visit at the prison on Sunday, Minister of Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola said, “We are still awaiting more results. We are happy to announce that 40 officials have tested negative,” he said. The outstanding results are expected on April 14 while mass testing for the entire East London Centre continues. “We have taken immediate steps to prevent any potential spread of the virus. We have identified single cells within the Centre which are designated as quarantine and isolation areas. Officials who work in these designated areas have been supplied with PPEs which include Disposable Suits, Disposable Gowns, Shoe Covers, N95 Masks and Eye Shields among others,” assured the Minister.
Correctional Services is working with the Department of Health to immediately start with the treatment procedure of all those infected. “We will be receiving daily preventative and containment reports. The fact that positive cases were recorded when the country is under national lockdown where restriction of movement for all citizens is enforced, was a mitigating factor against the rapid spread of Covid 19 by officials who tested positive. Had it not been for the national lockdown, presumably, the virus would have been further spread across the province,” said Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
Offenders have complained about lack of access to money from their loved ones during the lockdown period. Cash accounts with banks for all centres have been opened to enable people to deposit money for offenders. “Money could also transmit the virus, therefore, the fact that it is deposited at banks and not brought physically at centres, is one of the preventative measures that decrease the spread.” This brings the number of cases in the province to 92. The Eastern Cape Rising broke the story of a prisoner who was denied a test despite showing strong symptoms and how unsafe the prison conditions are on March 31. An inside source at the East London Prison claimed that new and sickly inmates were mixed with old ones in the cells.
Our source added that he felt unsafe as prison wardens come in and out of the prison but did not wear masks or gloves, and yet shouted in inmates faces up close. At the time there was no provision for sanitisers and safety gear for inmates.