Walvis Bay prisoners in panic mode

07 July 2020 | Health

OTIS FINCK AND OGONE TLHAGE

Walvis Bay/Windhoek



An inmate at the Walvis Bay prison is deeply concerned about hygiene at the correctional facility, which employs 77 staff members and houses an estimated 250 inmates.

Last week, news broke of seven positive coronavirus cases at the prison. It was reported that two inmates and five staff members tested positive for the virus. Yesterday morning, the country recorded 73 new cases of Covid-19, one from Windhoek and the rest from Walvis Bay, leaving Namibia on 485 cases.

President Hage Geingob later announced that Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis will remain at stage three of the Covid-19 state of emergency and lockdown for the next 28 days, until 3 August. A cordon to restrict the movement of people outside these towns will be imposed.

Travel into Erongo will be permitted with the exception of the three towns. Schools in the three towns may also not resume face-to-face learning.

Geingob has also requested that Erongo governor Neville Andre investigates the possibility of placing people in unoccupied houses built under the mass housing programme.

The sister of an inmate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she received a phone call from her distraught brother.

“He told me that everybody in the prison was in panic mode after an inmate suffering from a high fever was carried from a cell by medical personnel late at night last week to receive medical treatment. Between 30 and 40 inmates are housed in a cell. 'We do not know what is going on. We are waiting for the worst to happen', my brother said.”



No masks

The inmate also told his sister that the prisoners have no masks and there is no sanitiser available.





“Conditions deteriorated rapidly and have now reached extreme levels. At this stage, we do not get regular meals,” the inmate said, while pleading with the ministry of health to intervene. Prison visits have been suspended for over a month.



'In the dark'

The inmate's sister said she and many others are in the dark about the well-being of their incarcerated family members.

“We are very worried. We cannot visit our incarcerated family members since the arrival of Covid-19. We paid money into my brother's account, but he told us that he was unable to use it as the shops apparently refuse to provide items on the lists requested by prisoners.

“My brother told me that he resorted to using laundry washing powder to wash his body because there is no soap or any other toiletries available,” she said.





According to a source employed at the facility, it is unfortunate that the virus has breached prison walls.

“It all started with case 32, a female correctional officer stationed at the facility who tested positive on 10 July. Those who subsequently tested positive are in quarantine and additional measures have been put in place. The officer in charge of the prison, who resides at a residence on the prison premises, is also in quarantine.”

The source declined to elaborate on how many inmates are in quarantine at the facility.



Quarantined

Erwin Axakhoeb, the officer in charge at the Walvis Bay prison, confirmed he was in quarantine, but said he did not want to comment on the issue before consulting with officials from the Windhoek office.

“It has been a very busy week for us. I will get back to you.”

However, the source revealed that single cells were allocated to quarantined offenders, while prison officials self-quarantined.

“Offenders who arrive from police stations or other facilities are quarantined for 14 days. Any offender who tests positive for Covid-19 is removed by the ministry of health,” the source said.



Stigmatisation

The source added that prison officials had also been on the receiving end of stigmatisation ever since the news of the female warder who tested positive became public.

“Taxi drivers do not want to allow prison officials into their vehicles and shop owners refuse us access. However, our family members are very supportive.”

The source also said that photos of correctional officers who tested positive for Covid-19 were being circulated on social media.

“These posts also contained some speculation and false allegations accusing the first colleague who tested positive of sleeping with a truck driver who had also tested positive. This woman is married, so one can imagine the hurt these rumours caused. It is not good for a sick person to be traumatised like this. There should be consequences for those spreading false information.”



Closed environment

Another source said it is not easy to work in a confined space and a closed environment, especially during a pandemic.

“We thought the virus was confined after all staff members were tested. Now more positive cases have emerged. This leaves one wondering how many officials and inmates are actually infected at the facility.

“The next question that comes to mind is whether to shut down the whole facility. There is also a suggestion to transfer inmates who are not infected with Covid-19 to other facilities,” the source said.



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