Mumbai: Eighty-one new cases of coronavirus were reported from the Arthur Road Jail on Sunday, taking the number of those affected to 184, including 158 inmates and 26 jail officials. Last week, 77 inmates and 26 jail authorities had tested positive.
This was a disaster waiting to happen, since the jail is one of the most congested in the state, housing thrice as many inmates than it officially can, and social distancing is impossible to enforce.
Authorities suspect this to be the reason for the outbreak. A temporary quarantine facility has been made inside the jail, said an official. Earlier, it had been decided to shift the infected inmates to a quarantine facility in Mahul, near Chembur.
"Because of the law and order and other civic, medical and logistical issues that would arise because of this move, a Covid quarantine ward has been facilitated at Circle Nos. 3 and 10 at Arthur Road Jail," a senior jail officer said, on condition of anonymity.
To constantly monitor the health and progress of the patients in the jail premises, a medical team of seven doctors and paramedics from the state-run Sir JJ Hospital visited the quarantine ward on Sunday and will do so daily, said a senior prisons official.
On Sunday, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar also visited the jail complex and the adjacent police quarters, a civic official said. She interacted with the personnel and asked officials of BMC's G-South ward to disinfect the area.
While the prison authorities are yet to identify the source of the infection in the Arthur Road jail, they suspect it to be through the delivery of essentials to the prison, that continued, 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-year-old inmate who first tested positive. This inmate’s barrack was just opposite the jail's kitchen.
The jail's 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. Even before the country-wide lockdown, on March 17, Arthur Road jail had stopped accepting new inmates, diverting 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.