Saturday, December 4

Auckland prisoner tests positive for Covid-19

A man in pretrial detention at Mt Eden Prison tested positive for Covid-19, it was revealed today.

Mount Eden Prison

Mount Eden Prison
Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Corrections told RNZ that the man initially denied having Covid-19 symptoms when he arrived, but they were detected the next day.

Public Health Director Caroline McElnay said he had been traveling with someone else before he was taken to prison.

“It is known that he was in the Firth of Thames area before being detained, this is within the DHB area of ​​Manukau counties, and is under alert level 4 restrictions,” he said.

Two new sights have been added to Ministry of Health tracking list in relation to man, one at Mt Albert and one at Māngere. And the person I was traveling with is being tested today.

“Five prison officials and six prisoners are close contacts of the man and are isolating.”

Mount Eden Prison

Mount Eden Prison
Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

After arriving at the prison, the man appeared in court and shared a cell with another inmate before the positive test result was returned to him.

National Vice President of the Corrections Association, Paul Dennehy, said it is not surprising that there is a case at the prison.

“It’s affecting New Zealand as a whole. This whole prison is just a microcosm of New Zealand society.

“And as a union, we just supported all of our members at sites across the country throughout this pandemic.”

At today’s press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was “extraordinarily rigorous protocols” that led to the detection of the virus.

Prisons are treated as a high-risk residential setting, he said. All incoming prisoners receive the same treatment “as anyone who arrives at our border,” and they are tested for Covid-19 upon arrival, and then retested until the 12th.

The new arrivals are kept in a separate area from other prisoners for 14 days, and all personnel who interact with them wear gowns, safety glasses, gloves and masks.

The man detained in pretrial detention is one of three cases still unrelated to 24 new community cases announced today.

However, Ardern said that since the man was “essentially on parole,” his movements were “well known.”

McElnay confirmed that a tentative link to another case was known, and staff were working to confirm it, so that it could be formally counted as a linked case.

Both the man in pretrial detention who tested positive and his cellmate are now in a quarantine area inside the prison. Both will be supervised by dedicated staff who will be fully vaccinated, wear full PPE and will not be in contact with other prisoners, Ardern said.

The four police officers exposed to the man are also isolating, three had been fully vaccinated and one has received a dose.

“Those who had contact with him will be evaluated regularly,” he said.

The prison’s chief of custody, Neil Beales, said only essential personnel have been at the scene since the man’s arrival.

“The Mt Eden Correctional Facility was our first prison to implement our smart card proximity sensing technology to assist with contact tracing.

“We have provided information to all affected inmates so that they fully understand the controls we are implementing for their health and safety. They will continue to have access to Health Services staff who will assist them with any questions or concerns.”

Provisions on staff welfare were also established, he said.

Ardern said the prisoners were in Group 2 for vaccinations, because they lived in a residential setting.

“Auckland inmates have been among the first inmates to be vaccinated.”

Of the national prison population, 67 percent have received at least one dose.

Beales said vaccines were not mandatory for prison staff or prisoners.

“Since launching our vaccination program in May, we have taken a proactive approach to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated against Covid-19.”

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