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Covid-19 unsettles prisons

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Chimwemwe Shaba

Maula Prison in Lilongwe has moved to temporarily close the female section with plans to turn it into an isolation centre for Covid-19 in an event that the facility has a confirmed case.

Public Relations Officers at the prison Donald Mkolongo confirmed that all female inmates have since been transferred to other formations.

“We are planning mass screening for inmates, officers and spouses in a week or so; therefore, the temporary closure of the female section is for creating space in case one or two people are found with the virus and require to be kept in isolation,” Mkolongo said.

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He said the facility had 67 women and seven children who have since been moved to Mzuzu and Karonga prisons.

Mkolongo could, however, not indicate how long the section will remain closed.

The closure of the female section forced authorities to transfer a senior police officer Evalista Mvula, one of the suspects arrested in connection with the murder of Buleya Lule, to Dedza Prison where she has been remanded.

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As of Wednesday, Malawi had registered 2,614 Covid-19 cases with 43 deaths and 1,005 recoveries.

Meanwhile, the Malawi Prisons Service (MPS) says it has intensified measures to contain the spread of the pandemic in correctional facilities after an inmate at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre tested positive for Covid-19.

MPS spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said the patient has been admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

“We are tracing those who came into contact with the person so that they can also be tested. So far, we have disinfected the cell which the patient was living in and we have tents and shelters within Chichiri Prison that can be used as isolation places for those suspected of having the virus,” Shaba said.

He said the recent case means that MPS has registered two cases after an officer at Mzimba Prison also tested positive.

The Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) has since called on the government to provide equipment for mandatory Covid-19 testing for all inmates at Chichiri Prison.

“We have been telling government that the situation looked worrisome looking at the fact that our prisons are congested. At the moment, what we are looking for is that government should provide all the necessary materials so that everyone at the facility is tested,” Chreaa Executive Director Victor Mhango said.

He further urged the government, through MPS, to look into ways of decongesting the correctional facilities to minimise the spread of the contagion and other communicable diseases.

“If we are not going to act swiftly on preventive measures, we might lose more people; so it is up to us to act now because prevention is better than cure,” Mhango said.

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