Ticking time bomb: Eastern Cape correctional facility records 26 cases

Prisons are a nightmare when it comes to maintaining social distancing, with 26 people having tested positive for COVID-19 at a correctional facility in East London.



A total of 26 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at a correctional facility in East London. 

Three offenders and 23 officials were confirmed to be carrying the virus following the mass screening and testing in the facility after a warder was confirmed positive on 8 April. 

Dozens of cases confirmed

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said that everything was being done by his department to stem the flow of the virus in South Africa’s prisons, but conceded the latest news was deeply saddening. 

“We are sad to announce that we have recorded 26 positive cases here n East London, at Medium C Female Centre, for 23 officials and three offenders. We are still awaiting more results of those who have been tested. 

“As the Department of Correctional Services, we have been implementing a comprehensive approach to prevent the transmission and spread of COVID-19 in our centres and offices.”

He said that correctional services have been on high alert to prevent this kind of outbreak, but have unfortunately been affected nonetheless.

“We have regularly given updates that contextualise our COVID-19 approach which is focused on prevention, containment, treatment and recovery. All our efforts mirror our caring nature as we work towards ensuring the wellbeing of offenders and officials.

“However, today what has brought us to the East London Correctional Centre, are developments we wished we could avoid but unfortunately, they befell us.”

Tracing and testing ongoing

Lamola said that the country and globe as a whole are dealing with an invisible enemy, and as a result they would treat all role players in the prison environment 

“We know that we are dealing with an invisible enemy that does not discriminate who it targets.

“The positive cases follows mass screenings that the Eastern Cape region embarked upon at the centre after the first positive case was recorded at the facility on 6 April. 

The first official who tested positive on 8 April, attended a funeral where she interacted with people from overseas, with the department requesting 30 officials who came into contact with her to self-quarantine. 

“There was a second positive case when an official who solicited the service of a private laboratory received her result,” said Lamola.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on 8 and 9 April then conducted a mass screening of 268 offenders at Medium C Female Centre, testing 30 offenders who showed symptoms of COVID-19. It also started testing a total of 266 officials at the East London Correctional Centre. 

Lamola said that 193 offenders had been tested, with a further 46 expected to undergo testing on Monday.