Midlands Prison believe Covid outbreak contained after five inmates test positive
Inmates and staff tested in first recorded spread of virus in prison of pandemic
A number of members of staff and inmates at Midlands Prison are self-isolating after being exposed to a positive case .Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Prison authorities are confident they have contained a Covid-19 outbreak in the country’s largest prison.
Mass testing has been ongoing in the Midlands Prison since Friday when five inmates tested positive for the virus. It is the first recorded spread of the virus within the prison system since the pandemic began.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) confirmed on Monday that several staff members have also tested positive. However no new cases have been detected among prisoners.
Five other prisoners have been diagnosed with the virus in various facilities in recent months but the IPS is confident they all contracted it outside prison and were isolated before they could transmit it within the prison system.
Covid-19 outbreaks in the prison system are seen as particularly dangerous due to inmates’ close living conditions and the prevalence of immunosuppressive medical conditions within the population.
Sources say there is great worry among staff and inmates about the Midlands outbreak but that management are confident they have contained it to the A2 landing of the prison.
All prisoners and staff in the prison are being tested, with staff only permitted to return to work on receiving a negative test. A screening process to detect symptoms among prisoners has been completed and movement within the prison has been severely restricted.
“This will support a return to a more normal prison regime as soon as possible,” the IPS said in a statement.
It is understood a handful of Midlands staff are also self-isolating, having shown symptoms of the virus or been exposed to an infected person.
This includes the attendees of a prisoner disciplinary meeting last week which was attended by a prisoner, a senior manager, a chief officer and a prison officer. Those present were forced to self-isolate after an attendee began showing symptoms the next day
The Midlands has a prisoner population of 810 and is currently at about 90 per cent capacity.
IPS Director General Caron McCaffrey, who visited the Midlands Prison on Monday, said staff have been preparing for a possible outbreak for the past nine months. “And since Friday, Midlands Prison staff have expertly implemented this plan and protected the people in their care”.
She praised prison staff for their “tireless efforts” in recent days. “Unfortunately a number of staff have tested positive and we send them our best wishes and hope that they recover fully and quickly.”
Since the start of the pandemic the IPS has proven successful in limiting the spread of Covid-19 in jails nationwide. Some prisoners were released early to create space to better manage the prison population.
Newly committed prisoners were segregated and observed to screen for the virus being brought in to jails, and part of Cloverhill Prison in Dublin has been designated as a quarantine facility for prisoners with suspected symptoms.
Visits were also banned at an early stage and replaced with video calls. Visiting recommenced during the summer before being banned again last month in line with Level 3 restrictions.