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16/10/2021

Irish prisons face 'unprecedented' Covid-19 challenged after virus detected in Dublin and Laois jails

Checks continuing in locked down Portlaoise jail but cases have stabilised

The Midlands Prison PortlaisePicture:  Finbarr O'Rourke

Visit to prisioner at The Midlands Prison in Portlaoise at the centre of appeal.

The Irish Prison Service can confirm that there are now 24 prisoners in Irish jails with Covid-19 after it was confirmed that the virus has infected inmates at a Dublin jail.

However, the outbreak at the country's biggest prison in Portlaoise is showing signs of being contained.

The IPS confirmed on Friday, February 26 that there are now 13 prisoners in Arbour Hill Prison. The outbreak was confirmed by the prison service on Thursday. The IPS also confirmed the total at Midlands Prison who have tested positive for Covid-19 remains 11. 

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

Two mass rounds of testing have been carried out at the Midlands Prison involving up to 1,000 people. There are over 800 inmates in jail which operates separately from the neighbouring high-security Portlaoise Prison.

Most of the results from a second round of testing at the Laois jail have been completed but prison authorities believe they have the situation under control. A restricted regime has operated at the jail since February 20 when five more cases were detected after five emerged on February 17. Staff tested positive on February 12.

Despite the outbreaks, which have also seen staff being infected, the IPS believes it has a pandemic plan has been a success. However, it cautions that the challenge has changed.

"The Irish Prison Service has been hugely successful in protecting the prison community from Covid-19 with the first case in a prison only being confirmed in August and in that case, it was a person who was committed to custody with the virus. 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.

"The Irish Prison Service has developed a 5 stage Framework for Living With Covid-19 in line with the National Framework published by the Government. The Framework sets out the necessary restrictive measure to be adopted as the Country moves from level to level and has allowed the Service to respond to Public Health advice and Government decisions in a dynamic and timely manner.

"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 staff & prisoners safe from infection. The Service has successfully managed a number of outbreaks since the beginning of this pandemic.

"The Service is working closely with HSE Public Health with regard to the management of the current outbreaks including making arrangements for the mass testing of prisoners and staff if required," concluded the statment.

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