SEVENTY-EIGHT inmates at Mutimurefu Prison have tested positive for Covid-19, raising concerns over the safety of thousands of prisoners living under squalid conditions across the country`s overcrowded correctional centres.
The development comes as the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in Masvingo province is continuing, with health officials reporting 43 new cases on Wednesday bringing the total to 2 037 and 60 deaths since March last year.
Masvingo provincial Covid-19 taskforce spokesperson Rodgers Irimayi confirmed the development to The NewsHawks and said testing of inmates at Mutimurefu to ascertain their status is ongoing. He said all the positive cases were isolated within the prison complex.
“The prisoners are being tested in batches and it was when results for those who were tested last Wednesday when 78 were found to be positive to the novel virus. As a provincial committee, we are worried about the results but measures are being put in place to make sure that the positive cases will not affect other inmates. As I speak, they were isolated within the prison complex.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) Masvingo provincial head senior assistant commissioner Social Ndanga said the ZPCS has since improvised by converting some sections within the prison complex to isolation centres where those who test positive are being held. He said the recovery rate among prisoners is encouraging as many are showing signs of improvement.
“We dedicated some of our blocks to hold the positive prisoners. We still have 78 positive cases at Mutimurefu and some of the prisoners are showing signs of recovery. We only lost one prison officer to the virus in the province and some of the prison officers have recovered from the virus. As you know, many people are still being arrested coming to prison and, due to that, we are now screening new inmates coming in to make sure that they do not infect already serving inmates.
Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO) chief executive Edson Chiota told The NewsHawks that prisoners in the country are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than any other group. He said the prisons are struggling to provide sanitiser and face masks to prisoners. He appealed to communities and various organisations to help with the vital provisions so that the lives of inmates can be protected.
“Prisoners are at great risk of contracting coronavirus. They meet with new people on a daily basis, that is going to court, the coming in of new prisoners as well as prison officers living outside the camps. Protective equipment in prisons is not enough, there are some prisons which are better but in most cases there are shortages. We therefore appeal to well-wishers to assist by donating these PPEs to our prisons so that the lives of incarcerated people can be saved,” said Chihota.