The Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija, has said the focus has been placed on decongesting prisons to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections.
During a press conference called by Ministry of Health in Kampala at the weekend, Dr Byabashaija said engagements are ongoing with the Judiciary to send only criminals who are a big danger to the community.
Reacting to the incident in Amuru prison where 153 inmates and a prison staff tested positive for Covid-19, Dr Byabashaija said a request has also been placed to the Attorney General to release more inmates.
“Two months ago, we released about 860 inmates of petty offences as well as foreigners. We have made another submission to the Attorney General for another processing [to release more inmates],” he said.
Dr Byabashaija did not specify the number that is expected to be released.
He said they have also established isolation centres to ensure that new entrants do not mix with old inmates.
“Amuru prison is one of the 44 isolation centres which we established countrywide. The intention [of setting up those facilities] was that the new admissions do not mix with old prisoners. If you mix [them] you can have catastrophic consequences,” he said.
“We shall continue to isolate new admission countrywide. We also have them in Kasangati, Mityana, among other facilities,” he added.
At the same press conference, the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, said the prison infections could have been sparked by a new inmate.
“Last week, one prisoner at Amuru prison presented with Covid-19 like signs and symptoms. Our response team on the ground immediately investigated and isolated this case and listed a total of 20 contacts of which one turned positive for Covid-19,” Dr Aceng said.
The confirmed inmate was admitted to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital and later discharged, the minister said.
Dr Aceng said the Health ministry along with Prisons relocated all the affected inmates to Gulu Central Prison which is acting as an auxiliary isolation facility.
She said the rest of the staff who were suspected are under quarantine in Amuru prison staff quarters.
Dr Aceng said Amuru is one of the districts that has reported the highest cases of community infections.
Prisons in the country are congested which complicates social distancing.
Dr Aceng warned that the country could experience a spike in Covid-19 deaths due to the exponential rise in infections.
On Saturday, the country registered 318 new cases with 20 health workers being part of the number.
Dr Aceng said as numbers increase, the few health facilities will become overwhelmed and the attention being given to patients will reduce leading to more Covid-19 deaths.
Citing institutions such as Kampala Capital City Authority, Megha Industries, NRM secretariat and media houses that the virus has already penetrated, the minister said the Covid-19 situation is rapidly changing.
“Ugandans forgot where they came from and unless we return to our initial determination to prevent [Covid-19 infections], the numbers will continue to increase.
As I have indicated before, the more the numbers that are admitted in the hospital, the less the attention they can be given by medical workers and the number of deaths will increase,” she said.
Dr Aceng appealed to Ugandans to adhere to the prevention measures.
“You cannot rely on enforcement officers to make you wash your hand or maintain social distancing. We see taxis carrying more than the fixed recommended number and no one is wearing a mask and in the arcades, there no hand sanitising or social distancing,” the minister said.