BREAKING Huge test and trace operation in Laois after prisoners test positive for Covid-19 at jail in Portlaoise

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

BREAKING Huge test and trace operation in Laois after prisoners test positive for Covid-19 at jail in Portlaoise

Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

A major Covid-19 test and trace operation is underway at one of the country's biggest prisons following confirmation of an outbreak in the Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

Upwards of 1,000 staff and prisoners will have to be tested after the Irish Prison Service (IPS) confirmed that prisoners have tested positive.

"The IPS can confirm a small number (five) of prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in the Midlands Prison. The prisoners have been isolated in line with infection control procedures.

"The IPS is working closely with Public Health and the Community Health Office testing team in the HSE and contact tracing is ongoing. The positive cases relate to one area of the prison and all prisoners accommodated in this area and staff who are assigned to this area have been tested.

"All other prisoners and staff in the Midlands Prison are being tested as a precaution.

"An Outbreak Control Team (OCT) meeting has taken place to review the cases and agree the appropriate actions to be taken to mitigate against the further possible spread of the disease within the prison," concluded the statement.

The positive tests emerged from one landing in the jail which is occupied by a substantial number of prisoners. It is understood that a containment and contact tracing operation swung into action immediatately after some prisoners began showing symptoms of the virus and before testing began.

This subsequently led to the testing of all prisoners on the landing. Staff have also been tested. The full results of this first round of testing had yet to be completed on Friday when the cases were confirmed.

No staff had tested positive up to Friday afternoon, October 30. It is understood that Prison Officers have been wearing PPE and adopting other practices to prevent infection since the pandemic began earlier this year.

There were 815 prisoners in the Midlands Prison on October 27. IPS daily statistics say the prison is 93% full at present. The IPS does not release the number of staff on duty for security reasons.

It is understood however, that between staff and prisoners, at least 1,000 people will be tested at least once. More tests will be required in the community if staff test positive.

Contingency plans have been put in place to prevent the virus moving to the neighbouring high-security Portlaoise Prison.

The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced after Budget 2021 that €5.7 million has been set aside for increased PPE, cleaning and healthcare costs for the IPS. Additional Covid-19 related costs in Irish prisons were estimated to amount to between €4 to €5 million in total for 2020.

All visits to prisons have been suspended following the Government announcement on September 5 that the country was moving to Level 3 restrictions.

The virus has been largely controlled in Irish jails though some staff have contracted the virus. The only prisoners that have had the virus are those who have been committed from the community where they would have been infected.

The IPS has been internationally recognised for its Covid-19 management plan.  

The National Public Health Emergency Team said on Thursday that the incidence per 100,000 population in Laois is 230.2 over the past two weeks. In total, 195 people of tested positive up to October 28.