EC prison to undergo mass testing after official tests positive

The prison official is believed to be in a stable condition, but fears are growing over the vulnerability of correctional services.



After an Eastern Cape correctional services official tested positive for the deadly virus currently rendering all spheres of society to a halt, a mass testing operation will be escalated, with some 2 000 inmates and 500 prison warders at the facility set to undergo tests. 

In the Eastern Cape, 20 569 inmates and 4 984 officials will now be tested.

The official, who works at the West Bank medium C female prison, is believed to be in stable condition under quarantine, but The South African understands that she came into contact with a host of managers, warders and inmates since she is believed to have contracted the virus.

Appeal for calm

Department of Correctional Services (DCS) spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said that the main priority was the well being of both officials and offenders. 

“The National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD) will commence with mass screening and testing on 8 April at East London Female Correctional Centre,” said DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.

He said that correctional facilities will continue to ensure that staff are well protected with PPE gear, and said that the mass testing initiative would provide the department with a clearer indication of the scale of the issue.

“Correctional Services would like to appeal for calm during this period. We are committed to the well-being of offenders and officials in the department.”

“Correctional Services would like to wish our official a speedy recovery as she is in a stable condition in hospital,” he said. 

Inadequate protection 

Complaints have been levelled that only those in management positions at correctional facilities were given masks and gloves, with other staffers left to interact with thousands of inmates without the proper protection. 

A staff member at one of the facilities in the Eastern Cape has bemoaned the lack of protective gear being distributed.

They told DispatchLIVE that “the people who work toe-to-toe with inmates, we were not given those [protective provisions].”

“They only provided us with those things after someone was confirmed positive,” they said. “One of the people close to the person who tested positive has been in contact with a lot of people since last week. It was only on Sunday that they told him to work at the tower post. How many officials and inmates has he been in contact with?”

‘We are taking every precaution’ 

Nxumalo dismissed the allegations, saying that every precaution is being taken to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“The hysteria being created by either inmates or officials is aimed at dominating the environment, thus placing the entire nation on the edge of what may look like an emerging crisis while reality is the exact opposite.”

“The allegations raised are distant from reality,” he said, adding that they had ensured personal protective equipment was availed at all their facilities.

“Improving personal and environmental hygiene, provision of personal equipment, sanitisation and decontamination interventions is what we have been doing and continue to do in East London and Mthatha, hence we have to dispute the allegations made.”