Health worker and managing officers of a detention centre under Cao Bằng Province police's management demonstrated proper hand washing technique to help prevent virus transmission. — VNA/VNS Photo Chu Hiệu
Lieutenant General Hồ Thanh Đình, Director of the Police Department of Management of Prison, Compulsory Re-education Centre and Reformatory (C10) under the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), writes about the measures the national prison system (including adult prisons and juvenile detention centres) has taken to protect inmates’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the complex development of the COVID-19 pandemic in Việt Nam and the world at large, the C10 department has identified that ensuring safety for all detention facilities under all circumstances is a topmost priority, in line with the Government’s motto of “fighting the outbreak is like fighting the enemy”.
Under an order from the Government and the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, leaders of C10 department have set up eight mobile medical teams to respond the pandemic in the units under the department, invited leading epidemiologists from the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases on three occasions to talk about COVID-19 and anti-pandemic measures with all detention centres and correctional facilities in the country in three separate teleconferences, as well as held frequent inspections to review the preparedness in all facilities.
The inspection findings have been positive – the units have implemented thorough measures in compliance with the latest instructions from the Government, health authorities and local administrations, and closely followed the outbreak situation in the country to inform officers, inmates, and juveniles of their responsibilities in the fight against the pandemic.
The units have carried out anti-pandemic measures based on the principle of “four on-sites” – prevention, quarantine and treatment; medicine, protective gear, facilities and infrastructure; budget; and human resources. During the initial stage of the pandemic when medical supplies and protective gear were not easy to obtain, the units worked hard to buy necessary disinfectant chemicals and made medical masks and cloth masks to ensure all officers and inmates had at least three face coverings each.
Instructions on proper handwashing with soap and mouth washing with self-made saltwater were given to all officers and inmates.
A number of units had the initiative to set up mobile disinfection chambers at the facility gate to contain the risks of virus transmission from officers, soldiers or guests.
On January 30, the department reported to the public security ministry’s COVID-19 steering committee to provide medicine, equipment, chemicals, and protective gear. So far, medicine and chemicals, pandemic prevention tools and 20,000 medical masks, 350,000 antibacterial cloth masks have been issued to prisons and correctional facilities.
The facilities broadcast the outbreak situation, symptoms of the disease, and preventive measures on their public address systems in the morning, at noon and in the afternoon when labour is finished. Officers’ rooms, inmates’ cells, kitchens, canteens, meeting rooms and visitation rooms are all disinfected daily, while handwashing stations and hand sanitiser is readily available at gates, kitchens, halls, stairs and all floors.
Officers must declare their health status and report truthfully to management about contacts with possible suspect cases and will be given leave if necessary for quarantine.
The department has asked its units to reduce the approval of permits for leave or going outside for officers and soldiers working at the facilities unless truly necessary – the heads of the facilities will personally review the leave requests, and those who return to work after their leave will have their health closely monitored for 14 days. All officers and inmates must strictly comply with daily temperature screenings and obligatory face mask-wearing during discharge of duties, manual labour and meetings.
The facilities also heavily limit visitations from family and relatives and even disallowed visitations altogether when there were signs of community transmission in Việt Nam. Gifts and packages sent from outside are also discouraged to prevent virus transmission.
Before implementing these measures, the facilities have notified family and relatives of inmates and students and sought their understanding and co-operation, while allowed for longer telephone calls for the two sides to keep in touch with each other.
The menus for inmates and juveniles were also adjusted to boost their immunity, with the budget coming from the State’s standard rate and a certain percentage from the labour they perform.
All newly arrived inmates or juveniles are screened and their medical records and travel history checked, placed under 14-day quarantine in their cells before they get assigned to prison groups or units.
Inmates who return from hospital care are also closely monitored.
Elder inmates with underlying health issues have also received extra attention, with their diets more carefully crafted to ensure their health and strength.
After three months since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Việt Nam, thanks to proactive efforts to prevent the introduction of the virus into the facilities, no positive cases have been recorded in prisons and correctional institutes under the management of the Ministry of Public Security while all activities in these facilities have gone on mostly undisrupted, bringing inmates, juveniles and their families peace of mind.
The C10 department leaders have continued to instruct the underlying units to continue to carry out six sets of prevention measures and avoid complacency and negligence, as the outbreak situation continues to remain unpredictable.
First, continue to strictly observe COVID-19 prevention and control guidelines and instructions from the Government, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Public Security and local administrations, with the goal of preventing an outbreak. The units must ensure security and safety of their facilities in all situations and at the same time safeguard the health and safety of officers and soldiers (especially health workers) and inmates under their management, and unfailingly report to co-ordinating units on the latest developments.
Second, study the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath on the prison and correctional facility system, closely monitor the progress of outbreaks and make sure that the information reaches all officers and inmates, preventing negligence that could result in outbreaks.
Third, order that all officers, inmates and juveniles observe personal hygiene, wear masks during labour, frequently disinfect their living quarters and avoid holding or participating in unnecessary meetings and large gatherings.
Fourth, step up inspection and supervision of anti-pandemic preparedness – including frequent temperature screenings, requiring the declaration of health status, limiting outside trips for officers (except in necessary cases such as important duties or family matters), quarantining new arrivals and returnees from hospital care, temporarily halting visitations while improving nutrition in meals for inmates and juveniles.
Fifth, each unit of detention centres must co-ordinate well to carry out effective management and reformatory activities for inmates and juveniles under their care, while enhancing information gathering to uphold security in prisons and correctional facilities. Plans to deal with outbreaks must be in place and ready to be implemented to avoid confusion and anxiety among inmates and officers.
Sixth, prepare a sufficient reserve of medicine, equipment, chemicals, protective gear, food and other essential goods to ensure a proper response in case an outbreak happens; ensure that there is enough space for quarantining of at least 100 people; review and ensure that equipment such as oxygen tanks, protective equipment and nebulisers are in working order; and arranging shifts of medical workers on alert for timely responses. — VNS