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06 Dec 2021

'Unprecedented challenge' Covid-19 warning as cases spike in Portlaoise jail

Mass testing at Laois prison this Sunday

Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

Covid-19 outbreak in Midlands Prison.

The Irish Prison Services (IPS) warns that it is facing an 'unprecedented challenge' as a mass Covid-19 testing operation involving up to hundreds of prisoners and staff gets underway at the Laois prison complex 

Just over a week after an outbreak of two cases was revealed, the Irish Prison Service has confirmed that the total number of positive prisoners in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise had risen to 33 by Friday, November 12. The cases emerged from testing of two divisions in the jail where more than 800 prisoners are behind bars.

The outcome of testing in the divisions has caused the IPS and public health teams to press the button on a mass testing operation for all other staff and prisoners.

"Following the testing of all staff and prisoners on E & G divisions in the Midlands Prison a decision was agreed with public health to test the remaining prisoners on A, B, C & D divisions on Sunday, November 14," said the IPS.

Staff have also tested positive but the IPS cannot reveal details on number as it says this is a matter for the HSE.

The service also confirmed that three more prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin, bringing the total there to four.

The Service said Outbreak Control Teams (OCT) have been established in Cloverhill and the Midlands Prisons to agree and oversee the appropriate actions taken to mitigate against further possible spread of the disease within those prisons.

In a statement, the IPS said it has been 'hugely successful' in protecting the prison community from Covid-19 with the first case in a prison being confirmed in August 2020 and in that case it was a person who was committed to custody with the virus.

It added that through the introduction of robust infection control measures and an internationally recognised contact tracing system the service has successfully mitigated against the spread of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. It said that to date, 15 outbreaks since October 2020 have been successfully managed to limit the spread of the infection in jails.

It warns that the situation has changed.

"However, given the current level of prevalence of the virus in the community the Irish Prison Service now faces an unprecedented challenge in continuing to keep prisoners safe from infection," it said.

As testing is in full swing in Portlaoise, the service said arrangements are being made for the mass testing of staff and prisoners in Cloverhill Prison on Sunday and Monday.

The prisons are also operating in lockdown in an effort to step the spread.

"To help prevent the further spread of infection a more restricted regime has been introduced which may impact on access to video visits and phone calls in the short term for prisoners in precautionary isolation however we are working to ensure that we can continue to facilitate family contact as far as possible," said the statement.

The Irish Prison Service has reported a 90% take up of vaccination among prisoners. It does not have information on staff vaccination take up because officers are vaccinated in the community through the normal vaccination programme and are not required to declare their vaccination status.

Covid-19 infections have spiked in Portlaoise and other parts of Laois in November.

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