The Department of Correctional Services says it has appointed a panel of health experts to assist in curbing the spread of the coronavirus in prisons across the country.

The department has announced on Sunday that 571 people have now tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) at their correctional centres countrywide. 393 of those who have tested positive are inmates while 178 are officials.

The Eastern Cape Correctional Centre has the bulk of the positive cases, accounting for 414 confirmed cases. 359 inmates have tested positive in the province while 55 officials have also tested positive.

Two people have died from the virus in the province.

“It must be noted that on 5 May 2020, a total of 477 inmates were tested at East London. The first batch of results was received on 11 May 2020 confirming 103 positive cases, 78 testing negative whilst 277 results remained outstanding. DCS is now able to affirm that 178 of the 277 inmates also tested positive which illustrate the upturn in East London,” the Correctional Services Department said in a statement.

The Western Cape accounts for the second highest number of confirmed cases in the country with 134 cases; 109 being officials and 25 being inmates.

Two people have died from the virus in the province.

The Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Correctional Services head office all have the least number of cases, all three having one confirmed case of an official.

99 people have recovered from COVID-19 at correctional facilities.

Overcrowding in prisons

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week that 19 000 inmates would be released to deal with overcrowding in prisons and to give authorities a chance to better control the spread of the virus.

The department’s spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo explains, “It’s important that our prevention measures do work. Then, we’ve got to look to say where there are positive cases possibly what could be the gaps there and how best do we close those gaps. But we still remain on the fundamental point to say let’s roll out prevention measures because that’s one of the viable options which will assist us.”

Compliance with Standard Operating Procedure and protocols

The department says that it has noted, through oversight visits, that all correctional service centres are in compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure and protocols of COVID-19.

The medical advisory panel has, however, advised the department to go beyond screening procedures as that could pose challenges for a correctional environment.

“As a result, DCS has commenced with advanced screening which includes assessment of vital signs. At least 1 087 specimen of inmates were collected on 16 May 2020 and this will now be a norm as we surge forward,” the department said.

The department says the Infection Prevention Control (IPC) is receiving necessary attention because it plays a critical role in curbing the spread of the infection at the correctional centres.

Correctional Services says it will continue to separate newly-admitted inmates from other inmates for at least 14 days.

In the video below, the SABC News looks at COVID-19 testing at correctional centres. 

Below is the full statement by the Department of Correctional Services.