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Westgate prisoner to take legal action over Covid-19 isolation

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Renee Ming Minister of National Security (File photograph)
Westgate prison (File photograph)

Prison officials have stonewalled questions on claims that a Westgate inmate has been in isolation for a month after he refused to take a coronavirus PCR nasal test on medical grounds.

The inmate’s mother claimed the man could have been exposed to Covid-19 cases in the isolation unit.

She added her son had applied for Legal Aid to take court action against the prison authorities over his treatment.

But Renee Ming, the Minister of National Security, insisted: “Inmates have rights and every safeguard is in place to ensure those rights are respected.

She added: “In this case, the isolation of the inmate is consistent with public health advice and is designed to keep him, other inmates and the officers safe.

“I have been in contact with this inmate’s mother and have assured her that her son’s safety is our priority.”

Ms Ming was speaking after the woman said her son, who is asthmatic with narrow nasal passages, had reacted badly to the PCR test a year ago and had requested the alternative saliva test – but had been penalised with isolation.

The Royal Gazette reported last month that the inmate had spent 28 days confined with inmates that his mother claimed had been exposed to the virus or had refused to take a test.

She said she had been told her son will remain in the isolation unit until he agreed to take a test – but no alternative to the nasal PCR test had been offered.

The woman added her son was not informed of recent tests carried out at the jail and also claimed that her son had been provoked by staff at Westgate.

The inmate’s mother said yesterday: “They have been treating him terribly since the story in The Royal Gazette. They are irritating him.

“He asked for water and they gave him milk. He pushed a cop and they are charging him for it.”

She added that her son had run out of medication for his nasal condition and staff had told him he had to show them he had run out.

But she said his medication was locked up in his original cell and he could not get it as he was in the isolation unit.

The Royal Gazette sent the Department of Corrections a string of questions, including the reason why the man had been refused a saliva test and if he would be offered one.

The department was also asked if it thought the man could have been exposed Covid-19 cases while in the isolation unit.

A spokeswoman for the prison service said that she could not discuss individual inmates or staff for confidentiality reasons.

But she added that the department was “actively working to ensure that every precaution is taken for the well being of all who work and reside in the facilities”.

The spokeswoman said the prison service continued to work with the Department of Health and other health professionals to ensure that any Covid-19 cases were handled “in the safest possible way”.

She added: “Specifically as it relates to the testing regime, the department pointed out that all inmates are fully advised of the testing procedures prior to the Covid-19 test. Testing is strongly encouraged. It’s not mandatory.

“In the interest of safety, upon reception/intake all inmates who agree to be Covid-19 tested have the test administered by an assigned health service nursing officer or certified health service provider.”

The spokeswoman said: “Regarding symptomatic testing, if an inmate displays potential Covid-19 symptoms, the senior nursing officer, in collaboration with the corrections medical officer, will make the request for the testing of an inmate, even if previous tests were negative.

“This is in keeping with the health guidelines, and it's also a precautionary measure to safeguarding the wider prison population.

“Any inmate who declines testing is quarantined in a separate unit for a specified period in keeping with Ministry of Health guidance.

“Again, this is a health, safety and precautionary measure to avoid the risk of the potential infection of staff and inmates.”

But the prisoner’s mother said: “He really feels down. They are not answering the questions because they don’t have a valid reason – they know what they are doing is against his constitutional rights.

“He’s been in lockdown for 28 days and he has shown no symptoms.

“The chief medical officer said there is a choice between saliva and nasal testing.

“I am going to try to get a lawyer so he can look into what is happening.

“This is a fight for everybody, we should have a choice.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions by press time.

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Published May 04, 2021 at 8:16 am (Updated May 04, 2021 at 8:16 am)

Westgate prisoner to take legal action over Covid-19 isolation

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