Mumbai: The worst fears of Maharashtra jail authorities came true on Thursday when test reports revealed that 77 prison inmates and 26 prison staff from Mumbai's Arthur Road jail had contracted COVID-19. On Monday, an inmate and two prison staff from the jail had tested positive for COVID-19, following which samples were collected from other prison inmates and staff for tests.
Arthur Road jail is one of the most congested prisons in the state, usually lodging thrice the number of inmates than its official capacity, and the overcrowding has taken a heavy toll. Speaking earlier in the day, Maharashtra Home minister Anil Deshmukh said, "Despite the precautions, 72 inmates of Arthur Road prison were found to have contracted coronavirus after coming in contact with a cook who had caught the infection. Now these prisoners will be quarantined with the help of the Mumbai civic body".
To prevent the spread of the virus in jails, the state government had decided to release on parole some 5,000 prisoners who have been sentenced to less than seven years' imprisonment, Deshmukh added. According to prison officials, 200 inmates and 20 jail staff were tested after a 47-year-old undertrial inmate and two jail staff tested positive for COVID-19 initially. A team from J J Hospital collected swabs of the inmates and jail staff on Monday.
Prison authorities are yet to identify the source of the infection, but suspect it to be through the delivery of essentials to the prison, that was continuing along with the entry of the civic body's garbage collectors and sanitation workers. It is suspected that a jail cook, who collected the deliveries, had contracted the virus and transmitted it to the 47-yearold inmate who first tested positive. This inmate’s barrack was just opposite the jail's kitchen.
Proximity to Kasturba Hospital, the city's first dedicated COVID-19 hospital could also be one the reasons behind the possible spread, prison officials speculated. Amid the coronavirus outbreak in the city, prison authorities have taken several preventive measures. Before the country-wide lockdown, on March 17, Arthur Road jail has stopped accepting new inmates and diverted them to Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai. From mid-April, the jail was completely locked and no staff was allowed to leave the jail, and those who had gone out of jail were quarantined for 14 days before they were allowed inside again.