By Mashudu Netsianda
Four inmates and one prison officer at Bulawayo Prison have tested positive for Covid-19 prompting authorities to conduct mass testing for everyone at the prison and disinfecting the complex.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) reacted swiftly to scale up containment measures for the deadly pandemic that has infected more than 12 million people worldwide and killed about 550 000.
Visitors for inmates have been banned with immediate effect countrywide.
ZPCS yesterday officially launched its Covid-19 operational plan, which is aligned to the national health guidelines.
The plan offers an overall guidance on how to manage confirmed and suspected cases of Covid-19 at the country’s prisons.
The prison officer who tested positive at Bulawayo Prison was immediately placed on self-isolation while the inmates were taken to a separate cell.
The exact number of prison officers and inmates who came into contact with the five confirmed cases was not immediately availed.
There are, however, more than 100 prison officers and 100 inmates at Bulawayo Prison.
The latest development comes soon after 18 health personnel working in the same ward at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) tested positive for Covid-19 after allegedly attending to an infected patient.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) health services director Dr Evidence Gaka said it was not yet clear how the quintet at Bulawayo Prison contracted the virus.
“There are five confirmed cases of Covid-19 at Bulawayo Prison involving four inmates and a prison officer. As contained in our ZPCS operational plan, the officers who are infected self-isolate at their homes and in the invent that it is not practical for them to self-isolate, we have other measures that we put in place,” he said.
Dr Gaka said inmates were isolated in separate cells specifically reserved for those infected with the virus and that is exactly what was done for Bulawayo Prison inmates.
“The Covid-19 operational plan clearly spells out our priorities and it has eight pillars which spell out what needs to be done in the event of Covid-19. It also helps us in terms of implementation of prevention and control measures. As a country, we have a Zimbabwe Covid-19 operational plan and as ZPCS we have crafted a similar document which is aligned to the national plan,” said Dr Gaka.
He said they were working with the Bulawayo provincial taskforce on Covid-19, which is spearheaded by the acting Provincial Medical director Dr Welcome Mlilo in the mass testing exercise and disinfection of the Bulawayo Prison.
“We are in the process of testing everyone at Bulawayo Prison because everyone else becomes a contact for those five confirmed cases. It is not something that will be done overnight, it is a process because we are talking of more than 200 prison officers and inmates combined. We have banned outside visitors for inmates,” he said.
Dr Gaka said the ZPCS was working with the acting provincial medical director to mobilise the required resources for testing and the manpower.
“We are also in the process of disinfecting the entire building as part of prevention and infection control mechanisms as contained in our operational plan,”he said.
Dr Gaka said they also require personal protective equipment (PPE) such as specialised face masks.
In line with Covid-19 prevention measures to minimise the risk of local transmissions, Cabinet recently resolved that all positive patients be placed in an isolation facility as some people were not adhering to procedures while at home.
Zimbabwe recorded 98 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday with 47 of them being local transmissions, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 885, sparking fierce debate on whether or not to return to total shutdown especially in Harare and Bulawayo, two cities with the highest numbers.
Most of the people who had been testing positive for Covid-19 in Zimbabwe were those returning home from South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, the United Kingdom and the US among other countries. The Chronicle