Maputo — Mozambique's National Prison Service (SERNAP) has suspended all visits to inmates in the country's jails as a social distancing measure, intended to block the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
According to the SERNAP General Director, Jeremias Cumbe, interviewed by Radio Mozambique, there is so far no record of any Covid-19 infection among the country's prison population.
"We shall continue to take all precautionary measures", he said, "particularly preventive measures, so that infection does not occur in our establishments".
"We have a very positive experience in fighting against endemic diseases such as cholera, and for the past six years there has not been a single case of cholera in any of our country's prisons", he said.
"We have instructed the prisons to restrict visits, because if a citizen infected with coronavirus comes to a prison, this could really complicate our situation", added Cumbe.
Relatives are still allowed to bring food to prisoners, particularly those with serious health conditions, such as diabetes. But they cannot have any contact with the prisoner - instead they leave the food with a member of the prison staff. The crockery and cutlery used must be meticulously disinfected after the inmate has eaten his meal.
These measures, however, do not address the most serious health threat in Mozambican jails, which is the severe overcrowding. Almost all the country's prisons accommodate many more inmates than their theoretical capacity.
The pardon by President Filipe Nyusi for 25 seriously ill prisoners, while welcome, does not begin to address the overcrowding problem.