Prisons coronavirus infections probed Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Service Commissioner General Paradzai Zimondi elbow shakes with Islamic Cultural Institute representative Khuliq Abdullah during the donation of Covid-19 items at the Harare Central Prison yesterday. — Picture: Innocent Makawa

Victor Maphosa

Herald Correspondent

As the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) is trying to identify the source of infections found in Beitbridge and Plumtree prisons, investigations include check reports that prison officers frequently go back and forth across the borders.

Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi has expressed concern over reports that some of his officers are violating lockdown laws, skipping back and forth across the country’s borders.

Six people — four inmates and two prison officers — have tested positive for Covid-19.

ZPCS and the Covid-19 taskforce are still trying to establish the source of the virus, considering the affected inmates never left the prison facilities.

This comes against a surge in cases with 16 new infections reported yesterday. Zimbabwe now has 222 confirmed cases, 29 recoveries and four deaths.

Comm-Gen revealed the border crossing investigation after receiving medicines for prison clinics and farming tools from the Muslim community in Harare yesterday.

“Some of our officers are jumping borders into South Africa and Botswana. We have those reports and it is something that we do not condone at all. ZPCS officers have the mandate to take care of prisoners and ensuring peace,” he said.

“We want to encourage our officers to be law-abiding and be more responsible. We cannot rule out the possibility of them bringing the virus into prisons because prisoners are always confined in their cells.

“Inmates do not go outside, so where can they possibly contract the virus?” he said. “We do not expect officers to be at the forefront of breaking the law through border ‘jumping’. How would they execute their duties then? We are now afraid that officers skipping borders to South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia may be the ones bringing the virus into prisons.”

The prisons boss said a cocktail of measures had been put in place to curb the spread of the virus in prisons.

“No relatives or friends are being allowed to visit inmates at any prison countrywide as a way of preventing the spread of the pandemic. Prisoners coming in from courts are screened before they are put into cells.

“Our officers have their temperatures checked and are compelled to sanitise every day when they report for duty.

“But we want more resources to protect our officers and inmates. Inmates themselves cannot bring the virus since they will be inside. That is why we implore our officers to be responsible out there.”

Speaking on the recent outbreak of the virus in Beitbridge and Plumtree prisons, Comm Gen Zimondi said investigations to ascertain the origin of the virus are in progress.

“We are investigating where the virus has come from. This will help us in putting measures aimed at preventing its spread in prisons,” he said.

ZPCS health services director Senior Assistant Commissioner Evidence Gaka, who is in the forefront of setting measures to stop Covid-19 spreading, was concerned about overcrowding at the country’s prisons.

He said there was need to create more space at the prisons to isolate those infected with the virus.

“As we speak, the number of prisoners is more than the official holding capacity of our prisons.

“During the Presidential amnesty, the numbers were too high and what it means is that, we remain constrained in finding isolation facilities because we are already overcrowded.

“However, we continue to make efforts to make this as practical as possible. So what we do within the constrained environments, is to identify certain places to house new admissions.

“Where possible we put tents within the main prison. The idea is to isolate for 14 days but we end up isolating for seven or eight days due to resources constraints.”

Meanwhile, police statistics show that 22 smugglers were arrested in Beitbridge between 30 March and 22 May after using various illegal crossing points along the Limpopo River. They were caught with groceries, electrical gadgets and diapers.

Most of the culprits are small time cross border traders who cannot access the official border post due to ongoing lockdown guidelines in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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