'People need to know' - call for clarity over prison Covid-19 outbreak

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A former county council leader has called for more clarity to be provided over a coronavirus outbreak at Norwich Prison and its impact on the wider community.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that an outbreak of Covid-19 has occurred at HMP Norwich, however, to date it has not revealed the exact number of cases and whether it is affecting inmates, staff members or both.

Recent figures showed a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases in the Heartsease area of Norwich, where the prison sits, which currently stand at 52 cases in the seven days to December 9 - though at the weekend this figure was 81. It means the area currently has a coronavirus rate of 520.8.

Norwich Prison. Photo : Steve Adams

Norwich Prison, where visits have been suspended after a coronavirus outbreak - Credit: Steve Adams

George Nobbs, former leader of Norfolk County Council and current Labour councillor for the Crome division, which the prison is in, has called for the information to be released to reassure people living in and around the area.

He said: "I find it very concerning. While I do understand the need for information control in some situations in this case I think there is nothing to be gained from it.

"For people living in the Heartsease area it is important that they know whether the increase in cases is confined to the prison or whether it is out there in the wider community. The sooner they are given that information, the better."

Mr Nobbs added that it was doubly important to know whether staff members had been affected, as they would come and go from the prison.

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He added: "It was a bit of a shock to see the numbers being where they were so naturally, it is a concern for the entire area."

This newspaper asked the MoJ how many positive cases had been recorded to date, how many wings of the prison had been affected, if any staff members had tested positive and, if so, how many, and whether staff members were self-isolating.

A Prison Service spokesman said in response: “Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons.

“We have taken precautionary measures at HMP Norwich following positive cases, in line with public health guidance, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Meanwhile, video calls have replaced inmate visits for the duration of the outbreak.

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