I have been informed by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that the outbreak of Covid-19 in Mountjoy Prison, which was confirmed on 7 May 2021 has been successfully contained and the prison returned to a more normal regime on Friday 21 May 2021.
This outbreak was the most serious outbreak to occur within our prisons since the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020. The outbreak resulted in 38 confirmed prisoner cases and a large number of staff cases. Previous outbreak situations in prisons were, in general, restricted to one location within the prison however, given the increased infectivity with this strain of the virus there were cases of Covid-19 confirmed in most areas of the prison.
The Irish Prison Service has a comprehensive contingency plan for the management of Covid-19 outbreaks. Upon confirmation of an outbreak situation, an Outbreak Control Team is established to oversee the management of the outbreak. An Outbreak Control Team, led in this case by the Director General, and comprising of prison management; Healthcare staff; National Infection Control; with representatives from the HR Directorate, Operations Directorate; and the Prison Officers Association was established on 7 May 2021.
The Outbreak Control Team managed the outbreak in line with the Irish Prison Service National Covid-19 Contingency Plan. The Plan sets out the actions to be taken with regard to the restriction of the confirmed case(s), contact tracing and the restriction of all prisoner movements while testing, contact tracing and assessment of risk are taking place. The Plan also sets out the arrangements to be made for the mass testing of all prisoners and staff.
In accordance with the Contingency Plan where there is a positive Covid-19 case in the general prison population, all prisoner movement in the prison is restricted while testing, contact tracing and assessment of the risk of the spread of the infection continues. Prisoners involved in the provision of services within the prison (kitchen, laundry etc.) continue to work with an enhanced level of PPE providing they are not a close contact of any confirmed case. Prisoners are fed and medicated at their door and are permitted to leave their cell in a controlled manner to make telephone calls.
Once the results of first round testing of all prisoners and all staff are received, any prisoners with negative test results have a degree of regime restored which strives to meet the minimum out of cell time provision of two hours. Positive prisoners and their close contacts are isolated or quarantined in accordance with HSE guidance.
The Prison Service engaged with the Health Service Executive with regard to the arrangements for the mass testing of all staff, with the mass testing of prisoners carried out by Mountjoy Prison Healthcare teams. All prisoners and staff were tested twice as per the Contingency Plan. It is the case that until the level of risk is eliminated the prison must continue to operate on a restricted regime in order to prevent the possible spread of infection.
An extensive communications plan was implemented in Mountjoy Prison to inform all key stakeholders of the actions being taken throughout the process. The Outbreak Control team was stood down on 21 May 2021 following the successful containment of the spread of virus and the prison was returned to a more normal regime.
The Covid-19 vaccination for prisoners is being administered by the National Ambulance Service, supported by Irish Prison Service medical teams. Prisoners aged over 70 have received their Covid-19 vaccination, resulting in 82 prisoners having received the vaccine to date. Approximately 360 staff, primarily involved in the escorting of prisoners to hospital, have also received their Covid-19 vaccine.
The Irish Prison Service has been engaging with the HSE/Department of Health with regard to the logistical arrangements for the administration of the vaccine to the remaining prisoner and staff cohort, and these discussions are at an advanced stage and expected to conclude shortly.