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Prisoners in panic mode over Covid

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Victor Mhango

Inmates at Chichiri Prison and Zomba Maximum Prison have raised concerns regarding their welfare, claiming that government has not done much in terms of preparation on Covid-19 amid rising cases in the country.

A prisoner from Chichiri, who opted for anonymity, corroborated a statement by an inmate from Zomba that nothing had been done in preparation for the resurgence of the virus, in the face of discovery of a new variant called Omicron.

The prisoner from Zomba said as inmates, they are shocked and worried that no intentional measures are being implemented despite the facility housing at least 2000 prisoners when its actual capacity is around 800.

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“If you remember very well sometime back when Covid-19 hit the country, there were a lot of cases in our prisons and you know the congestion situation here. We thought a little consideration should have been shown because much as we are here, we do not cease to be humans.

“Last time when we registered cases in our prisons we were barred from receiving visitors and that was not a good thing since our relations and friends who visit us bring us food and just that emotional support goes a long way. Clearly, with this lack of planning, it will end there when the cases hit us hard,” said the prisoner.

The one from Chichiri said they have been individually asking their warders for masks and other Personal Protective Equipment that they can use to help curb the virus.

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“It is sad that our conditions are never taken seriously. Already this place is beyond congested and if this variant we are hearing about attacks our country, prisons will be greatly affected.

“All we want is for government to show some remorse and treat us like humans. We did not come here to die,” the prisoner said.

Malawi Prison Services spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba agreed that there was a bit of relaxation but still said the basic measures are being enforced.

“The relaxation was regarding visitors, we permitted visitors. But we still have measures that are being enforced. We are still conducting mass screening. Like a few weeks ago we conducted mass screening in Mzuzu. So we are still trying to protect them; our officers are still distributing masks in the prisons,” he said.

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) Victor Mhango bemoaned the development, saying this could be breeding ground for more cases.

“I think as a nation we all relaxed, it is not only in the prisons. The relaxation is everywhere. If you remember everyone used to wear masks and you can see that things changed. I think we got carried away and that has gone to prisons which is unfortunate because our friends do not have the freedom and ability to take care of themselves like we do. However, they can choose to bar people from visiting but they have to fix their dietary needs,” he said.

According to the 2019 Inspectorate of Prisons Report, Malawi’s prisons’ population is 260 percent higher than the design capacity.

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