Zimbabwe: COVID-19 Hits Border Prisons

Border prisons at Beitbridge and Plumtree have been sealed off after six people -- four inmates and two prison officers -- tested positive for Covid-19 following PCR tests done to prevent the spread of the virus in jails.

Two inmates and one officer are from Plumtree while another pair of inmates and one officer tested positive in Beitbridge.

The ongoing testing process throughout the prison system started at the border prisons which have accommodated arrested returnees from other countries.

Police have announced that 94 border jumpers -- people crossing illegally into Zimbabwe -- have recently been arrested as the authorities step up efforts to ensure that all those returning from other countries, especially countries with high infection rates, are screened, tested and properly quarantined on their arrival.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said yesterday that Government has now suspended all visits to the two prisons to contain the spread of the virus.

She said the four prisoners and two officers have since been isolated while the two prison facilities were disinfected.

The four prisoners were being treated in isolation within the prison walls while the two officers were staying in self-isolation in their homes while they recover.

The minister said increased Covid-19 testing has seen correctional facilities being tested for the virus.

"The coming online of GeneXpert machines to test for Covid-19 has enabled increased testing capacity. All provincial hospitals can conduct PCR tests, and some machines are now testing at correctional facilities," she said.

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) spokesperson Superintendent Meya Khanyezi said a total of 274 PCR tests were done at the two prisons.

"Of the 216 PCR tests conducted at Plumtree Prison, three tested positive while three out of 58 PCR tests done at Beitbridge Prison were positive.

"As a precautionary measure, we have declared the prisons a no-go area and the cells have since been fumigated. We no longer allow any visitors and we have also suspended any movements out of prisons for now," she said.

ZPCS cannot accommodate all its officers in the prison camps, hence a number of them stay outside camps, making it difficult to completely seal the prisons off.

More suspects are remanded in custody daily at courts countrywide, hence putting existing inmates at risk of contracting the virus.

But the option of remanding all those on bail out of custody may not be viable since some of those accused of serious offences may skip bail.

Yesterday ZPCS failed to bring prisoners to court while it took stock of the position.

The overwhelming majority of infections recorded in Zimbabwe have been among citizens and residents returning from countries with much higher infection rates.

Those testing positive have largely been inside approved quarantine centres where the ill and the well are separated, with the well allowed to go home after eight days after two tests but have to promise to remain in quarantine at home until the compulsory 21 days are finished and a final test is done.

Also of concern is that 153 returnees have escaped from Covid-19 quarantine centres countrywide since March 30, with 23 so far arrested.

With residents returning from countries that have far higher infection rates than Zimbabwe, the authorities want to make sure that they do undergo quarantine and, if necessary, treatment.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, 49 405 people have been so far arrested for flouting lockdown regulations, most of them for unnecessary movement or failure to wear a mask.

Those arrested have been slapped with fines of $500 and warned not to breach the regulations again.

National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, yesterday stressed that police were making efforts to ensure that all returning residents were screened.

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