Coronavirus: UK prison officer tests positive for Covid-19

HMP High Down employee thought to be first person within prison system to contract virus

Coronavirus outbreak exposing 'precarious' nature of UK welfare system says government adviser

A prison officer has tested positive for coronavirus in Surrey, the government has confirmed.

The HMP High Down employee was found to have contracted the virus on Saturday and is self-isolating at home. Four prisoners are believed to be in isolation as a precaution.

The officer is believed to be the first prisoner or staff member within the prison system to have contracted the virus.

No other staff and no prisoners at High Down have tested positive, the Ministry of Justice said.

“The prison is operating as usual and our dedicated prison staff are taking all necessary precautions to prevent the virus’s spread, in line with Public Health England guidelines,” a Prison Service spokesperson said.

The government has drawn up emergency plans to prevent disruption in UK prisons during the coronavirus pandemic, after riots in prisons across Italy left 15 inmates dead and 40 guards injured.

A further 16 prisoners escaped during the unrest, which involved some 6,000 prisoners at more than two dozen facilities, sparked by the government's decision to suspend visits as part of efforts to curb the outbreak's spread.

Most of the fatalities are thought to have been caused by overdoses on drugs taken from the medical room during the disorder. At least one inmate in Modena potentially suffocated after fires were started, a justice ministry spokesperson told The Independent last Monday.

The UK government's proposals include ensuring that isolated prisoners can contact their families and providing extra reading material to combat boredom, according to the BBC.

Under new advice issued by the Ministry of Justice on Friday, family and friends of inmates have also been urged not to visit if they have a high temperature or a new continuous cough.

“We understand that prisoners and their loved ones might be concerned about the situation,” said prisons minister Lucy Frazer. “But we can assure them that we will continue to operate normal regimes, with the minimum disruption, for as long as we can.

“We are looking into ways to keep prisoners in close contact with their families in all eventualities, and will share further information as and when necessary.”

According to the plans seen by the BBC, inmates will be placed in single accommodation if they have had contact with a known coronavirus patient, as is believed to have happened in HMP High Down.

Campaigners have warned the virus could "spread like wildfire" if it were to infiltrate Britain's prisons.

“Many prisons are filthy and disgustingly unhygienic. Staff, visitors and inmates are not able to wash and soap is frequently impossible to obtain,” said Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

A 2018 inspection at High Down revealed some 400 inmates at the Banstead prison were being detained in overcrowded cells, Surrey Live reported.

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