Mkhululi Ncube, Chronicle Reporter
Prisons in Bulawayo, once the epicentre of Covid-19 infections in the province when 43 inmates and 23 prison officers tested positive, have scripted a major success story after recording 100 percent recoveries and eliminating new infections.

The province has five facilities — Khami Maximum Prison, Khami Medium Prison, Khami Remand, Mlondolozi and Bulawayo Prison.

Realising that heavy security and concrete walls cannot hold back the virus, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) reacted swiftly to ensure strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols soon after 66 people tested positive for Covid-19 at Bulawayo Prison.

Those who tested positive were isolated at Khami Medium Prison and all new inmates are now first isolated before joining the others.

Prison officers go for screening when reporting for work after leaving the prison complex.

No visitors are allowed to visit prisoners as part of fighting Covid-19.

The ZPCS has now embarked on a national awareness campaigns in all the prison stations in the country’s 10 provinces as part of measures to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Speaking yesterday at Khami Maximum Prison, deputy officer commanding Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Assistant Commissioner Cleopas Mzila Moyo said they were glad the inmates and officers all recovered.

“Some few weeks ago we had a number of inmates who were infected at Bulawayo Prison. One of the initiatives we took was to isolate them from others. We sent them to Khami Medium Prison where we have created space for isolation for prisoners,” he said.

“The officers were isolated at their places. They were there for two weeks and we are glad they all recovered well without any serious challenge.”

Asst Comm Mzila Moyo said they have put various measures in place at all prisons in the city to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Covid-19 is a virus that knows no boundaries and as Bulawayo Metropolitan Province we have a number of programmes that we have put in place to curtail the spread of the virus. Social distancing, masks wearing are a must in the prisons in the whole province,” he said.

“Our health teams are moving around educating the inmates and officers on preventive measures. In each and every prison we have sanitisers and foot baths at all points of entry.”

He said all new inmates and prisoners coming from other prisons were now put on a mandatory 14-day self-isolation before they are introduced to the rest of the inmates as part of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

During the campaign at Khami Maximum Prison, it was evident that despite incarceration, inmates had access to Covid-19 information as they shared some preventative information.

A traditional acapella group uses song and dance to pass critical information to fellow inmates.

The campaign was also held at Anjue Farm Prison in Umguza which has 83 inmates.

The officer-in-charge of the prison, Superintendent Kuzivakwashe Matinenga, said they have reduced the number of inmates at the prison.

“We usually have over 100 inmates at this prison but because of Covid-19 we have reduced that number to 83 so that we can manage social distancing in the cells. When all our officers return to work they must pass through the clinic for a routine check-up,” he said.

Supt Matinenga said they have just completed a fumigation exercise at the prison and inmates also washed their blankets using hot water to improve hygiene.

An inmate at Anjue Farm Prison, Mr Mathaius Nyathi, said they have all been tested for Covid-19.

“We have been educated about Covid-19 and our officers are strict on maintaining hygiene standards, hand washing and sanitisation is now our culture in the prison. The only major challenge is that we cannot see our relatives like we used to and it is understandable in light of the prevailing situation,” said Mr Nyathi.

Another inmate, Mr Samson Nyoni, said they now have more space in their cells as part of practising social distancing

“I can say we are protected in the prison because of the measures that have been put in place. Our nurses are always educating us and checking if we meet the standards that have been put for our protection, in the cells where we sleep we are not crammed,” he said.

ZPCS spokesperson Superintendent Meya Khanyeza said besides the Bulawayo Prison cases they have not received other cases at prisons in Matabeleland region.

“As ZPCS we are doing massive campaigns to combat the continuous spread of Covid-19. We do not have any cases at the moment in any of our prisons hence we have partnered with various stakeholders to try and keep the situation as it is,” she said.

Supt Khanyeza said the suspension of prison visits for relatives of inmates is part of the measures put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“I want to appeal to the public to understand the situation, it is the best measure we could do for the inmates’ health. We are providing all the necessary provisions for the inmates, the public should not worry. Once the situation normalises the public will be allowed to visit again,” she said. — @themkhust_ncube.