Prisoners from Bristol are being sent to Cardiff – despite a worrying new strain of coronavirus reported in the city.
The English city – 42 miles from the Welsh capital – has had 11 cases of the new virus variant, which was described by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock as “mutations of concern”.
On Tuesday this week, inmates from HMP Bristol were transported to the prison in Cardiff.
Officials have refused to say why the move has taken place – and how many inmates from across the border have been moved.
The information only came to light when prison sources contacted WalesOnline – which was then confirmed by the Ministry of Justice.
Given the lack of details, and the rise of new mutated form in Bristol, it has prompted questions as to why the transfer has gone ahead and whether it was safe to do so.
It comes as details of an “outbreak” on one wing of the prison were heard at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday. During one hearing it was heard that “mass testing” of inmates was taking place after several cases on F wing of the prison.
One leading prison charity said that prisoners should only be moved “when it is safe”.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a difficult and worrying time for everyone, and particularly for people living and working in prisons, where viruses can spread quickly. The best way forward is to send fewer people to prison in the first place.
“People in prison should only be moved to bring them closer to family and support, and only when it is safe.”
On the same day as the prisoners were transferred, February 2, UK health secretary Mr Hancock announced that “11 cases of mutations of concern” had been identified in Bristol.
The cases are a mutated form of a variant which was first identified in Kent, and is separate to different variants originating in South Africa and Brazil.
The variant is known to be circulating in the south-west of England, with further cases confirmed on Thursday in parts of South Gloucestershire.
The Kent variant of the virus is known to be more infectious and spreads more easily. Investigations are ongoing into the new strain of that appears to combine two mutations which have been worrying scientists. You can read more here.
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The Ministry of Justice was asked to detail the number of prisoners but refused to give further details.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We test all prisoners before transfer and place them into isolation on arrival.”
It is understood that 113 staff were affected. At the time, sources told WalesOnline that the huge number of employees were unable to work because they had either tested positive or were self-isolating.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday it was confirmed that the South African variant of coronavirus is circulating in the community in Wales with no link to international travel.
Officials had previously said there were 10 confirmed cases of the more infectious South African version of Covid-19 in Wales, all linked to travel. Current vaccines do not give the same breadth of immunity to the new variant although they provide some protection.
Mr Gething revealed that three more had since been identified which had no known link to South Africa or international travel. The cases are in Anglesey, Conwy and Neath Port Talbot. He said work was urgently being carried out to establish how those three people contracted the variant. You can read more here.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk