FORTY-THREE inmates and 23 prison officers at Bulawayo Prison have tested positive for Covid-19 amid reports that cases are on the increase in the city.
Bulawayo has recorded 36 new Covid-19 cases bringing the total number of cases in the province to 483. All the 36 new cases in Bulawayo, which has now become the epicentre of the pandemic, were from local transmissions.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, 133 new Covid-19 cases were recorded countrywide on Sunday bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1 611. The national Covid-19 death toll remains at 25.
Last week four inmates and one prison officer at Bulawayo Prison tested positive which led authorities to sanitise the premises and visitors for inmates were banned with immediate effect countrywide.
The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) cannot accommodate all its officers in the prison camps, hence a number of them stay outside camps, making it difficult to completely seal the prisons off.
More and more suspects are remanded in custody daily by the courts countrywide, putting existing inmates at risk of contracting the virus. But the option of remanding all those on bail out of custody may not be viable, since some of those accused of serious offences may skip bail.
ZPCS spokesperson Superintendent Meya Khanyezi confirmed the development yesterday and appealed for donations to help inmates sanitise and wash their clothes. She said the prison was in dire need of soap and sanitisers so that the situation is contained.
“We have 23 prison officers and 43 inmates who have tested positive to Covid-19. Like the national statistics, cases keep rising and we are doing our level best to contain the situation in all our prisons,” said Supt Khanyezi.
“We have isolated the confirmed cases within the prison and we are doing our best to identify their contacts, who will be quarantined as well. We desperately need masks or alternatively material to make those masks because our inmates can make them, we decrease chances of infection.”
Supt Khanyezi said inmates who had tested positive at Plumtree and Beitbridge Prisons had recovered.
“The challenge we have is that inmates and our officers have a lot of interaction with members of the public in court or even in police holding cells before they are brought to us. This tends to make them more vulnerable and we are doing our best to ensure that we contain the situation.”
ZPCS recently launched its Covid-19 operational plan, which is aligned to the national health guidelines.
The plan offers overall guidance on how to manage confirmed and suspected cases of Covid-19 at the country’s prisons. Public institutions have been hit hard by the global pandemic which left scores of nurses in Bulawayo infected and many quarantined.
A total of 15 nurses at Mpilo Central Hospital contracted the virus while on duty recently after attending to infected patients. Mpilo authorities made efforts to contain the situation and more than 197 health care workers were quarantined.
About 18 health workers in the same ward at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) tested positive for Covid-19 recently after a patient tested positive. The development resulted in more than 80 nurses and student nurses who were in contact with the patient going on quarantine.