NATIONAL NEWS - On Sunday, the department of justice and correctional services said that the East London Correctional Centre had recorded 26 positive cases of Covid-19 at its Medium C Female Centre.
Of those so far affected, 23 were officials and three were offenders.
“We are still awaiting more results of those who have been tested,” said spokesperson Chrispin Phiri.
The positive cases followed mass screening after the first positive case was recorded at the facility on 6 April.
“The official who tested positive attended a funeral where she interacted with people from overseas. Thirty officials who came into contact with the official were requested to self-quarantine when this case was still a presumptive case. There was a second positive case on the 8th of April when an official who solicited the services of a private laboratory received her result,” said Phiri.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on 8 and 9 April then conducted a mass screening of 268 offenders at the Medium C Female Centre, testing 30 offenders who showed symptoms of Covid-19, and also a total of 266 officials in the East London Correctional Centre.
Phiri said they were awaiting the results of all the other offenders who had been tested.
“We expect the outstanding results on the 14th of April.
“Mass testing in the entire East London Centre for both offenders and officials will continue. 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. We have taken immediate steps to prevent any potential spread of the virus arising from these recorded positive cases.”
They had identified single cells within the Medium C Female Centre to be designated as quarantine and isolation areas.
“There are officials who work in these designated areas and they have been supplied with PPEs which include disposable suits, disposable gowns, shoe covers, N95 masks and eye shields.”
The total number of offenders at the East London Medium C Female Centre was 269 as of 11 April.
“We also have two offenders with babies. Loved ones of the two offenders are willing to take care of the two babies and the process to release the babies under their care is under way,” said Phiri.
“We are working with the department of health to immediately start with the treatment procedure of all those infected. We will heighten preventative measures and continue to avail PPEs to both offenders and officials.”
Phiri called on South Africans not to panic. “We are confident that infected officials and offenders will recover from this pandemic.”
The department also made headlines on Sunday after the Sunday Times reported on how Johannesburg Prison, popularly known as Sun City, had apparently only put on a fake show of preparedness against the coronavirus – including water in bottles disguised as hand sanitiser.
The article alleged that prison officials “staged an elaborate charade” on Wednesday to “fool” Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola when he inspected the prison for its preparedness and protocols against the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
While Lamola was there, staff were wearing gloves and masks and screening visitors, but this apparently all ended as soon as he and his entourage left, and the hand sanitiser in use had apparently not even been real anyway.
Sunday Times journalists were able to enter Sun City on Friday without being screened or sanitised and they witnessed visitors mingling with officials, allegedly without enough social distancing, they reported.
“Staff said new inmates were admitted without health screening and were not kept apart from the existing prison population,” the paper reported.
The prison apparently doesn’t even have a thermometer.
The paper also saw a register suggesting that “more than 50 people entered the facility to make bail arrangements for inmates”.
In their response, the justice department disputed some of what the Sunday Times had reported. They insisted that they had procured enough PPE (personal protection equipment) and that “bulk distribution was effected across all centres in the country”.
Phiri said it was “fake news” that there was a shortage of PPEs.
He said the department was “focused on prevention, containment/treatment and disaster recovery”.
He, however, said they were unaware of prisoners doing duty without protective equipment, and asked the Sunday Times for “further clarity”.
He disputed several of “the allegations made” and insisted that “there has been screening at Johannesburg and supplies are being provided continuously, both for inmates and officials”.