Covid-19 has hit the East London Correctional Centre, where 23 correctional services officials and three inmates tested positive for the virus.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola confirmed on Sunday 26 cases have been detected in the female section.
Lamola, who visited the prison on Sunday, said more people have been tested, adding the department was still waiting on the results.
“The positive cases follow mass screenings that the Eastern Cape region embarked upon at the Medium C Female Centre after the first positive case was recorded on 6 April.
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“The official, who tested positive, attended a funeral, where she interacted with people from overseas.”
Lamola said 30 officials, who came into contact with their colleague, were requested to self-quarantine when it was a presumptive case.
The second positive case was confirmed on 8 April after an official, who sought out the services of a private laboratory, received her results.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) embarked on a mass screening of 268 inmates at the facility and tested 30 who showed symptoms of Covid-19 on 8 and 9 April.
Lamola added 266 officials working at the East London Correctional Centre were also tested.
“This number is inclusive of the 92 officials from the Medium C Female Centre. Yesterday [Saturday], 193 offenders were tested at Medium C Female Centre for Covid-19 and the remaining 46 offenders will be tested tomorrow.”
Thus far, the NICD has confirmed 23 officials tested positive for the virus, 40 tested negative and the results of 40 others are still outstanding.
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“Thirteen officials at Maximum Centre tested negative, three officials at Medium B tested negative and six officials from the area commissioner’s office tested negative,” Lamola said.
Three female inmates tested positive, 10 tested negative and the results of the other inmates, who were tested, are still pending.
Lamola said all outstanding results should be in by 14 April.
“Mass testing in the entire East London Centre for both offenders and officials will continue. The NICD is tracing all those who were in contact with officials who tested positive so that they can self-quarantine until they are tested and cleared.”
“We have taken immediate steps to prevent any potential spread of the virus arising from these recorded positive cases.
“We have identified single cells within Medium C Female Centre which are designated as quarantine and isolation areas. There are officials who work in these designated areas and they have been supplied with PPEs, which include disposable suits, disposable gowns, shoe covers, N95 masks and eye shields, among others.”
Those who have tested positive will be treated by the health department.
“The fact that positive cases were recorded when the country is under national lockdown, where restriction of movement for all citizens is enforced, was a mitigating factor against the rapid spread of Covid-19 by officials who tested positive,” Lamola said.
“Had it not been for the national lockdown, presumably, the virus would have further spread across the province. This is evidence that lockdown measures are effective and if adhered to, could decrease the spread of the virus.”
Lamola asked people not to panic as the Department of Correctional Services had a coherent anti-Covid-19 strategy that incorporated the expertise of different spheres of the government.
“We are confident that infected officials and offenders will recover from this pandemic. We have absolute confidence in our Covid-19 measures and we are confident that they will lead to recoveries that will ‘give birth’ to a correctional services free of the virus.”