NEW DELHI: The Centre has asked all states to take precautions against a COVID-19 outbreak in jails and correctional homes and ensure proper hygiene at such facilities.
In a communication to all states and Union Territories, the Home Ministry said the novel coronavirus is a global health crisis and has affected a huge population the world over.
The virus which causes the disease is highly infectious and even pre-symptomatic people can infect others, and any person who is in close contact with someone who has suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is at risk of contracting the disease, it said.
"People in prisons and other places of detention, living in a closed and crowded environment, are likely to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease," the Home Ministry said.
Moreover, it said, experience shows that prisons, jails and similar settings where people gather in close proximity may act as a source of infection, amplification and spread of infectious diseases within and beyond prisons.
Prison health is, therefore, widely considered as public health.
Any control strategy for COVID-19 in the community which does not encompass the prison context will not be sustainable, the ministry said.
"It is, therefore, considered essential that health-care teams of States and UTs should work with the custodial and detention staff in prisons and other places of detention, following the national guidelines and protocols on the subject issued by the government of India from time to time," it said.
The home ministry said certain inmates in a prison were tested COVID-19 positive.
In view of this, it is considered expedient to issue these guidelines to reiterate the precautions and measures to be taken, the ministry said.
"Prevention of import of COVID-19 into prisons and other places of detention is an essential element in avoiding or minimising the occurrence of infection and serious outbreaks in these settings and beyond," it said.
The home ministry said custodial or detention staff should work together with health-care teams in prisons and other places of detention to enable identification of suspected cases among prisoners or detainees.
Isolation of such identified persons in single accommodation and a subsequent clinical-assessment, risk-assessment or risk management, thermal screening at the point of arrest or taking custody by police and also at entry to prison should be available, the MHA said.
Information should be collected from arrested and convicted persons on any history of fever, cough or shortness of breath, recent travel history to affected areas and possible contact with confirmed cases in the last 14 days, it said.
Decision to limit or restrict visits to prisons as already communicated to be strictly implemented, the ministry said, adding a detailed daily registry of people moving in and out of the prison should be maintained.
Prison and detention management should consider implementing measures of physical distancing, limit the mobility of people within the prison and detention system or to limit access of non-essential staff and visitors to prisons and other places of detention, depending on the level of risk in the specific area.
In order to strengthen efforts at the field level to tackle the situations arising out of COVID-19, it is considered necessary to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the ministry said.
If a person who has served his sentence is an active COVID-19 case at the time of release or is the contact of a COVID-19 case and still within the quarantine period, the prison authorities should ensure that the person discharged has a place to go where he can maintain isolation in a health facility and quarantine, and that the local authority is notified, it said.
The ministry said due to their close interaction with crime perpetrators and prisoners on a daily basis, police officers, prison officers and health-care professionals working in prisons are at enhanced risk, it said.