Mountjoy hit by largest prison coronavirus outbreak to date

Contact tracing is ongoing after 19 prisoners test positive, says Prison Service.

Testing of Mountjoy’s 700 prisoners started last week with 19 positive results returned by Monday. File photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Testing of Mountjoy’s 700 prisoners started last week with 19 positive results returned by Monday. File photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

A total of 19 prisoners in Mountjoy have tested positive for Covid-19, the largest outbreak in the prison system since the pandemic began.

Testing within the Dublin prison is still ongoing, meaning this number is likely to rise. A number of staff members have also been infected but the Irish Prison Service declined to say how many.

Mass testing of Mountjoy’s 700 prisoners began last week, with results starting to come back on Monday.

The outbreak is the result of prisoner to prisoner infection rather than community transmission, an IPS spokesman confirmed.

“The Service is working closely with Public Health and the CHO testing team in the HSE and contact tracing is ongoing. The positive staff cases are currently confined to specific areas within the prison,” he said.

“Following engagement with the HSE the testing of all staff and prisoners for Mountjoy and Dochas Prisons is ongoing.”

Strict infection control rules have been eased across the Prison estate in recent months as cases numbers continued to drop in the community.

Some of these measures have now been reintroduced in Mountjoy which may impact access to video visits and phone calls for prisoners in isolation.

“However, we are working to ensure that we can continue to facilitate family contact as far as possible,” the IPS said.

“Mountjoy Prison Outbreak Control Team (OCT) continues to oversee the appropriate actions to be taken to mitigate against further possible spread of the disease within the prisons.”

Since March 2020, a total of 133 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19, including those prisoners who tested positive over the weekend.

Seventy two cases are a result of prison-based transmission while 61 were cases picked up in the community before infected people entered prison.

There are currently 3,774 prisoners in the system.

Prison reform campaigners have called for prisoners to be prioritised for vaccines, while the Prison Officers Association has expressed significant frustration that its members will not receive any priority access.

The IPS said it has made a submission to Nphet on the matter and is awaiting a response.

It said it has commenced planning for the delivery of vaccines across the prison estate.