January 12: The number of prisoners in England and Wales who have tested positive for coronavirus and died has risen by 50 per cent in a month as cases behind bars surge.
In December, 24 prisoners died either having tested positive for Covid or where there was a clinical assessment that the virus was a contributory factor in their deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 71, the Guardian reported.
According to weekly statistics, about 2,400 prisoners have tested positive since the start of December, bringing the total number of positive cases since the start of the pandemic to 4,800, a rise of about 70% in a month.
The increase in prison cases comes as cases surge in the community, with a new, more transmissible variant of the virus. The Ministry of Justice has been testing all symptomatic prisoners since April.
Sources told the Guardian Covid-19 was not the main contributing factor to the death of a prisoner in a third of the cases. It is understood that vulnerable prisoners are expected to be vaccinated in line with the vaccine rollout.
But David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said the government had lost control of the crisis. He said: “It is frightening that the government has lost control of the virus in prisons. More staff and inmates will die if ministers do not get control of this pandemic.
Outbreaks in prisons can also pump the virus outside of their walls, overwhelming local hospitals and infecting the rest of the community. The government must rapidly roll out vaccines across the country so that we can secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild Britain.”