Published: 17:59, 22 October 2020
| Updated: 09:50, 23 October 2020
One of Sheppey 's three prisons now has at least 32 cases of Covid-19.
The outbreak at HMP Swaleside at Eastchurch has had 26 members of staff test positive for the virus and six inmates.
Just 10 days ago the site was reported to have only five cases, all from staff, after news broke that neighbouring Elmley Prison went into a partial lockdown due to a similar outbreak. On October 10 HMP Elmley closed part of a house block after two officers and two prisoners tested positive for the virus.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We have robust and flexible plans in place to keep prisoners, staff and the wider public safe based on the latest advice from Public Health England.”
But a prison union official has spoken out about the safety of members.
Mike Rolfe, who founded the breakaway Criminal Justice Workers Union six months ago, represents 500 members in Kent and 1,500 nationwide.
He said: “All three Sheppey prisons are currently experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19, predominantly amongst the workforce.
"Obviously, staff, their families and friends as well as prisoners and their families, are rightly concerned about the limited levels of protection available to all in custody.
"While face masks are now being slowly introduced into the prison estate, this will do little to alleviate those concerns.
"Most prisons do not have the design or capacity to allow for safe social distancing and the nature of the job involves staff often needing to enter into prisoners’ personal space, raising the risk of exposure exponentially.
" Sadly, we have lost colleagues and prisoners as a result of coronavirus nationwide. We must do all we can to prevent further unnecessary deaths both inside our prisons and for our wider community."
He added: "Since the easing of restrictions, levels of violence have been steadily increasing from mounting frustration following the lockdown period. The recent outbreak may result in further lockdown periods."
He warned: "We as a union want to ensure that our members’ safety, and the safety of those in our care, is a top priority. However, foolishly, prison service management is looking to cut back on funding overtime. This is short-sighted and places staff and prisoners at further risk.”
The warning comes as the people of Sheppey were this week accused of treating Covid-19 "as a joke".
Recent outbreaks have seen the infection rate jump to more than 200 in three areas of the Island, compared to a county average of 49.4
'I tell people, can't you see what's happening here? And they just ignore us...'
Worst hit are Sheerness East, with 239.6 weekly cases per 100,000 people.
Padmini Nissanga, a Swale councillor for Sheppey East, blames residents for failing to take the pandemic seriously.
She said: "The number one thing I have found as a councillor is people don't want to listen. I tell people, can't you see what's happening here? And they just ignore me.
"I went to Sheerness High Street last week and only two or three people were wearing a mask. People were going up and down the road and into shops with no mask whatsoever.
"People don't want to listen. They are so stubborn. They think this is a joke. But this is the whole country, not just the Isle of Sheppey.”