Justice Minister Naomi Long has endorsed plans by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to combat the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic over the Christmas period.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said, “Our primary focus in prisons during the pandemic has always been the safety of staff and those in the care of the Prison Service. With growing concern over the Omicron variant in recent weeks, I have had a number of discussions with the Director General and agreed to his request to introduce additional measures to protect our prisons.”
Therefore a number additional cautionary steps will be taken to protect Northern Ireland’s prisons in the weeks ahead.
From Monday 20th December:
- Only essential staff will be permitted into prisons.
- As far as possible, prisoners will be ‘bubbled’ to limit large group interactions.
From Monday 27th December:
- In-person visits will be temporarily suspended, pending review.
Commenting on these steps, Director General Ronnie Armour said, “Since the start of the pandemic, the Prison Service has been focused on keeping Covid-19 out of prisons, and prisoners out of cells, and this continues as we face the growing threat of the Omicron variant.
“The decision to take these additional steps including the suspension of in-person visits has not been taken lightly. I fully acknowledge the importance of family visits with loved ones – particularly at this time of year – but it is a critical step if we are to continue to protect staff, visitors, and those in our care. I am pleased to say however that virtual visiting will continue.
“All of the decisions announced today have people’s welfare at their core, and will be reviewed as soon as possible, in response to public health guidance.”
Notes to editors:
- Due to the ongoing Covid-19 response within prisons, only four positive cases have been confirmed in the general prisoner population to date.
- To date over 75,000 virtual visits have taken place since the start of the pandemic and have proven popular with prisoners and their families.
- While access to prisons will be restricted to prison and health staff, each Governor has the flexibility to enable access on account of local need.
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