600 locked down amid Prison Covid outbreak

By Will Trafford

Above: Kohuora prison at Wiri, South Auckland is in lockdown after a surge of positive Covid-19 cases / NZME

Nearly half of prisoners who've received test results at a privately-run Auckland corrections facility are infected with the Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus, with hundreds more locked-down awaiting delayed PCR tests from the Ministry of Health.

50 prisoners in one of the 3 housing units at Kohuora, the Auckland South Corrections Facility at Wiri are currently isolating in their cells after receiving positive test results, while 600 others are also locked down awaiting PCR test results taken 6 days ago.

Serco which runs the facility says the decision to lockdown 3 prison blocks and issue PCR tests to all prisoners follows government guidelines, but that no prisoners had yet suffered complications from the virus.

“We recognise the significant risk within the relatively confined environment of prison and are taking every possible precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19.” A spokesperson told Māori TV.

In addition to the 50 prisoners testing positive, 13 staff had also tested positive according to Serco; 60 prisoners had tested negative but remained in isolation because there was nowhere to move them, with so many test results outstanding.

“prisoner placement changes cannot be arranged until all results are received for each House Block.” Serco said.

A cell at Kohuora Prison at Wiri, Auckland

Above: A cell at Kohuora Prison in Wiri, Auckland. 50 percent of prisoners have so far tested positive for Covid-19 and are locked down in their cells. / NZME

The company has halted family visits to the facility, but prisoners had been given phones with $10 additional allowance to call friends and whānau, as well as additional films, television and books in their cells.

In 2019 Kohuora was criticised by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier for its practice of 'locking prisoners in their cells' for extended periods.

All men are ‘in good spirits’, according to the business with 'frequent welfare checks' by officers made throughout the day. No prisoners were bedridden, while some reporting ‘mild symptoms’ from the virus are being treated with Panadol and Nurofen.

‘We are taking every precaution to maintain high standards of hygiene. All men have had their clothes and other items laundered regularly. Men who are Covid-positive have been given fresh linen daily. They have been given disinfectant to clean their cells and a fogger machine is used to disinfect the prison’s main laundry at the end of each day.’ the company says.

Serco says all officers at the prison are required to be vaccinated, but prisoners are not. The Prison's vaccination rates trail the general population at around 80 percent with the company saying renewed efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination, such as lessened severity and decreased risk of contracting the virus, are underway.

Māori Television has contacted the Ministry of Health for comment on the delayed testing results.

Kohuora Prison at Wiri, Auckland

Above: Kohuora Prison at Wiri, Auckland where 50 percent of prisoners tested are positive for Covid-19 / NZME