Coronavirus cases surge in Delhi jails, authorities come up with action plan
Director-General (prisons) Sandeep Goel said the 24-point actionable plan includes the creation of a special task force (STF) in each of the three prisons to carry out the contract tracing of the Covid-19 positive prisoners and staffers and regular screening of jail inmates.Updated: Jul 05, 2020 04:13 IST
The number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in Delhi’s three prisons -- Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini -- have gone up from 68 on June 21 to 137 till July 3, officials records show, prompting the jail authorities to come up with a 24-point action plan including rapid antigen testing and contact tracing to contain the spread of the viral disease.
Officials in the three prisons attributed the sharp rise in the number of cases to the aggressive testing. A total of 480 tests – 237 RT-PCR and 243 rapid antigen – have been done so far.
Director-General (prisons) Sandeep Goel said the 24-point actionable plan includes the creation of a special task force (STF) in each of the three prisons to carry out the contract tracing of the Covid-19 positive prisoners and staffers and regular screening of jail inmates. The STF will comprise of the chief medical officer, superintendent and a couple of other senior officials of the concerned jail.
Goel said a rapid antigen testing camp has been set up at the government dispensary at Tihar residential complex for around 2,600 prison staffers, including 800 security personnel from Tamil Nadu Special Police, who are deployed on the security duty at the three jails.
Till July 3, according to the data shared by Tihar jail administration, 243 jail staff of the total 2,600 have got themselves tested, following the contact tracing of positive Covid-19 inmates and jail staff. Of them, 38 tested Covid-19 positive.
“The rapid antigen testing in our jail complexes is primarily for our staff members. The inmates are mostly being tested by RT-PCR methodology. Apart from those identified through the contact tracing procedure, the rapid antigen testing is done on voluntary basis too,” said Goel.
Tests that detect presence or absence of an antigen in the body are called antigen detection tests. An antigen is a foreign molecule that induces an immune response within the body, especially the production of antibodies, and detecting its presence determines infection. The test has high specificity (true negative rate) of 99.3% to 100%, which rules out people who are not infected. Tests with a high specificity are most useful when the result is positive. Sensitivity (true positive rate) is lower at 50.6% to 84%, which makes it less accurate in correctly diagnosing a positive case. This is why people with symptoms who test negative have to undergo an RT-PCR test to rule out active infection.
Of the total 137 cases, 53 are prisoners and 84 jail staff. Among the 53 prisoners, one, a murder convict, Kanwar Singh,62, died in Mandoli Jail on June 15. In all, 29 Covid-19 positive prisoners have recovered. From the 84 Covid-19 positive jail staff, 23 have recovered, the data shows.
Tihar Prisons (which includes Mandoli and Rohini) is the largest prison complex in Asia and nearly 13,600 prisoners were lodged there before the lockdown was announced on March 24. A total of 4,129 prisoners, including 1,168 convicts, were released from the three prisons on interim bail or emergency parole in a drive carried out following the court’s order to decongest the jails to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Following the spurt in cases, the prison officers have converted semi-open and open jail buildings into designated isolation hostels for prison staff. As the semi-open and open jails in Tihar jail complex are not operational since the Covid-19 outbreak hit the national capital, the two buildings have been converted as designated isolation hostels for prison staff, senior jail officials said.
“The objective is to provide isolation facility to staffers who test positive but do not have enough space at their homes for self-isolation,” said a senior jail official, who asked not to be named.
Similarly, isolation wards have been created in each jail for isolating prisoners who tested positive for the virus.
Goel said a double-layer screening arrangement has been put in place for the checking new prisoners before shifting them to the barracks. The first screening is done at the central public relations officer’s (CPRO) office, which is located near Gate No. 4 of Tihar jail, while the second screening is done at the entry gate of the ward.
“Entry of new inmates has been restricted only to two sub jails -- one adolescent jail and one female jail to segregate them from other prisoners for 14 days. Suspension of court production of inmates and discontinuation of visits by family members and outside agencies, including NGOs are other key points in our action plan,” said Goel.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung hospital, said, “Since jails are crowded places and inmates stay in congested spaces, the Covid-19 virus can spread faster in such places. But at the same time, the virus can also be contained faster if the preventive measures and guidelines are strictly implemented, as these are confined places and every activity can be monitored and regulated.”