The Covid-19 pandemic has hit some of the country’s prisons, threatening inmates lives as the new strain is reported to spread faster.
In an interview yesterday, Malawi Prisons Services (MPS) national spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said as of Wednesday, 79 people had tested positive for Covid-19 within the prison system.
He said out of the 79 positive cases, 63 are inmates while 13 are members of staff and three are dependents.
Shaba said most of the cases were recorded at Zomba Central Prison which is also the Prisons headquarters, compelling the Ministry of Health to conduct mass Covid-19 testing.
He said: “Out of 918 tests conducted, which include 862 inmates, 56 staff and dependents at Zomba Central Prison, 75 tested positive. At Kasungu and Ntcheu prisons, one staff each tested positive, while at Maula Prison [in Lilongwe] a staff and an inmate also tested positive bringing the number of Covid-19 positive cases to 79.”
The Prisons spokesperson said the service has since established an isolation centre at Zomba Central Prison where all inmates who have tested positive are being kept.
The mass testing, which started last Thursday at Zomba Central Prison, is underway and if resources allow, the exercise will extend to all the country’s prisons.
“Any Covid-19 patients who are critically ill will be referred to central hospitals for treatment, but as we are talking now we haven’t had such a situation,” said Shaba.
Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) executive director Victor Mhango said in an interview yesterday that 75 positive cases are on the higher side considering the number of tests conducted and that prison facilities are congested.
Said Mhango: “The more the congestion, the faster the coronavirus will spread. Prison health is public health so if we do not maintain the situation in prisons, the public will suffer indirectly.”
He has since appealed to President Lazarus Chakwera to pardon more prisoners, particularly those with health problems, the elderly or those with minor crimes in a bid to decongest the country’s prisons.
But in a separate interview, Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda said government cannot pardon prisoners now because inmates remaining in the country’s prisons committed serious crimes. He said all those that committed smaller crimes were pardoned last year.
But The Nation records show that between April and December 31 2020, about 2 678 inmates were pardoned as 1 392 were released in April courtesy of the European Union Chilungamo Programme, while Chakwera pardoned 499 prisoners in August following Covid-19 concerns, before pardoning an additional 787 inmates in December 2020 as part of the New Year and Christmas celebrations.
According to Shaba, there are currently over 12 000 prisoners in the country’s 29 prisons against a design capacity of 8 000.