Coronavirus: More than 2,000 prisoners may have been infected, says Public Health England (PHE)

On then 28th April 2020, Danny Shaw reports

The number of prisoners believed to have been infected with coronavirus may be up to six times as many as the published figure, it has emerged. 

Public Health England (PHE) says it has found 1,783 “possible/probable” cases – on top of 304 confirmed infections across jails in England and Wales. 

PHE’s report says there have been no “explosive outbreaks” in prisons, but “significant threat levels” remain. 

Measures to quarantine new and at-risk inmates are needed for a year, it adds.

The report, published by the Ministry of Justice, says access to testing for prisoners has been “limited and variable”. 

“Therefore, the number of laboratory confirmed cases reported does not represent the true burden of infection in the prison system,” it said.

“During outbreaks, where a number of positive laboratory samples have been received (usually around five or more) on prisoners who have been swabbed, then subsequent cases who meet the clinical case definition are included as ‘possible/probable cases’.”

Of the 1,783 “possible/probable” cases by the end of last week:

  • 398 were in Welsh prisons
  • 298 in the West Midlands
  • 264 in south-east England

Wales also had more confirmed cases (77) than anywhere else.

PHE said officials had responded to outbreaks in 75 different “custodial institutions”, with 35 inmates treated in hospital and 15 deaths. 

But the report says the frequency of outbreaks and the number of cases is reducing, indicating that the initial wave of infections is being “contained effectively” – which it says is a “cause for cautious optimism”. 

Previous modelling suggested there could be between 1,800 and 2,300 deaths, depending on reductions in the prisoner population.

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