Bob Mackin (updated Jan. 22)
Two-dozen inmates at Surrey Pretrial Services Centre have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health has confirmed to theBreaker.news.
The provincial remand centre, which holds as many as 750 inmates, is connected to the Surrey Provincial courthouse. The ministry has not disclosed whether guards or other staff have caught the virus. The existence of an outbreak was announced in the B.C. pandemic update on Jan. 20, but Dr. Bonnie Henry did not mention the number of infected.
Fraser Health Authority, B.C. Corrections and the Provincial Health Services Authority are working to manage the outbreak and trace anyone who has been in contact with infected inmates, the ministry said. No guards have been infected.
“Fraser Health Public Health is working with BC Corrections and the Provincial Health Services Authority to identify any individuals who may have had contact with any of the inmates who tested positive,” according to a prepared statement sent to theBreaker.news. “Following provincial health guidelines, Public Health will contact these individuals directly to determine if they are symptomatic and that appropriate self-isolation measures are being taken.”
To avoid a repeat of an outbreak late last fall at Surrey Provincial Court, the transfer of in-custody individuals between Surrey Pretrial and the courthouse is temporarily on hold. All court proceedings involving Surrey Pretrial inmates are being conducted by webconference.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 22, Fraser Health announced an outbreak at North Fraser Pretrial Services Centre, where 20 inmates tested positive.
Coincidentally, the man accused of causing chaos at Lynn Valley Care Centre in March remains in custody after being unsuccessful in his bid for release from Surrey Pretrial.
On Christmas Eve, a Richmond Provincial Court judge denied bail to Taymour Aghtai, who is facing a charge of conveying a false message with intent to harm. Details are protected by a publication ban. The North Vancouver seniors care home received a hoax phone call before the weekend of Canada’s first death from coronavirus.
“Obviously I’m worried and it’s concerning to hear when we hear that there’s been an outbreak, ii’s not exactly surprising I would say,” Aghtai’s lawyer, Josh Oppal, said in an interview.
Oppal declined to comment on Aghtai’s health, but said “I have no information at this time to indicate he specifically has been infected or has contracted COVID-19.”
“The vast majority of people who are in pretrial facilities are presumed innocent, they’re awaiting trial, it obviously impacts the health and safety of the staff, which is something everyone rightly is concerned about.”
B.C. Corrections pandemic procedures include screening anyone entering custody for symptoms and a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Those who remain asymptomatic are integrated with the general population. Anyone who develops symptoms is supposed to be immediately isolated. There is active screening at entrances for staff and contractors. In-person visits are not allowed unless urgent or exceptional circumstances.
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