Covid-19 tests are being carried out for inmates and staff at central and district prisons across Kerala after a big cluster of the virus was detected at the Poojappura central prison.
According to jail officials, 470 inmates, which is nearly half of the Poojappura prison’s strength, and 12 staff members have tested positive for the virus earlier this week. The cluster was established after a 72-year-old inmate, who was lodged in block 7 of the prison, tested positive before undergoing treatment at the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. He later passed away due to Covid-19 complications on Sunday. The source of infection of the prisoner is unclear. Following his death, testing using rapid antigen kits was carried out among inmates and staff at the prison whose results threw up indications of a big cluster.
The prison at Poojappura, considered the oldest correctional home in the state, was established in 1886 when the region was a part of erstwhile Travancore state.
“Testing has been completed at Poojappura. Most of the prisoners who have tested positive are asymptomatic. They have been lodged in quarantine spaces within the jail itself and are being monitored. A medical team has been deputed by the district administration. The symptomatic ones are under treatment at Covid-hospitals and first-line treatment centres,” said P Ajay Kumar, DIG of Prisons (South Zone).
On the death of the prisoner at Poojappura, he said, “He had a lot of underlying health conditions and would often be taken for treatment at the Medical College Hospital. Now, since prisoners are subjected to testing before treatment, his result came back positive. Subsequently, we started testing in the block where he was lodged and others as well. We figure the staff may also have got the infection from the inmates. Twelve out of nearly 300 staff have tested positive.”
“Many of our prisoners are taken to the Medical College Hospital or the General Hospital for treatment. These are contaminated spaces. So, 99% chance is of infection spreading that way. We have always taken maximum precautions,” he added.
Kumar said testing at all jails in the south zone, except one in Mavelikkara, will be completed by Wednesday. The 36 inmates, who have been detected with the infection at the district jail in Thiruvananthapuram, have also been shifted to the Poojappura central prison where they can be monitored by the medical team, he added.
A senior jail official in North Zone confirmed that antigen testing is being conducted across all prisons in the region to detect cases and isolate them if found. “Fortunately, we haven’t had any cases yet within the jails even though infection outside is rising steadily. We have been asked to limit the number of police officers escorting prisoners for treatment. Jail staff will accompany them instead,” he said.
With the risk of contamination in jails especially among elderly prisoners in mind, the state government has ordered de-congestion measures such as releasing those above the age of 65 on a self-bond parole. Parole of others eligible can be allowed and extended under these special circumstances.
The Kerala State Human Rights Commission has asked jail authorities to ensure adequate quarantine spaces for prisoners so that they can maintain physical distancing and steer clear of the infection. If not available within the jails itself, government institutions near such jails can host prisoners until the situation becomes normal, it said.