In a move to expand the testing strategies and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among jail inmates in the state, the Kerala government has released standard operating procedures to test all newly-imprisoned inmates as well as those on parole who are returning. These inmates will be subject to mandatory quarantine in the jail.
As per the guidelines issued by the Health Department on Wednesday, May 20, rRT PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test will be done on all symptomatic and asymptomatic persons who are now being admitted to jails or are returning after parole.
The inmates, who will be quarantined in a single separate cell inside prison till results are out, will undergo pool testing, a procedure recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) where upto five samples of different persons will be pooled for the test. If the pool is found negative, all five persons are marked as negative.
But if the pool is found positive, individual RT PCR tests will be done on samples of each person. This procedure was recommended with the aim of expanding sample testing for COVID-19 in the country.
The guidelines also explain the quarantine and testing strategy to be adopted on prisoners on parole.
“An asymptomatic prisoner who is on parole, but who has had any epidemiological link with any persons suspected to be COVID-19 positive, in the last 14 days, will be kept at institutional quarantine for a period of two weeks,” the guidelines state. However, they do not mention if such persons should be tested.
Prisoners on parole who are symptomatic and have come into contact with a suspected COVID-19 case, will undergo RT-PCR test. This will be done while under isolation in institutional quarantine.
On the direction of the Kerala High Court, the state government in April had granted parole to all under trial prisoners, those in remand and those serving sentences below seven years. As per reports, this is close to about 1,800 people.
For isolation, a cell with attached toilet facilities is recommended as a priority. If there are limitations to creating an adequate number of such facilities, a person under quarantine using common toilets should clean it properly after every use.
Dining facilities for those under quarantine should also be kept separate as per the guidelines. If such a facility is not present, timings should be scheduled so inmates under quarantine do not come in direct contact with others. In such cases, plates should be handled and cleaned individually.
The prison inmates under quarantine should maintain strict physical distancing norms by staying around two metres away from other inmates.
Jail authorities are also being asked to follow certain precautionary measures. “Do not reuse masks and gloves, dispose after single use,” one directive states.
Restrictions have also been placed on family visitations of inmates. Those whose family members are aged or pre-existing health conditions are asked to refrain from visiting.