SINGAPORE: Yusuf (not his real name), an inmate at Changi Prison Complex, first found out about the COVID-19 pandemic through the newspapers.
He started asking prison staff about the health crisis, and as it worsened, officers began briefing inmates on safety measures once every two weeks.
The 37-year-old, who is behind bars for drug-related offences, said he was worried about catching the coronavirus initially, but felt reassured when precautions were tightened at the start of the two-month "circuit breaker" period in April.
“Before the pandemic and during the pandemic, there is a lot of difference,” he said.
“Everywhere we go, we need to wear masks. Only inside the room (cell), we don't need to wear a mask.
“(There is) social distancing during our recreation time, even in our yard ... For Muslims, we also keep a distance of more than a metre (during prayers).”
Measures like these were put in place to protect the nearly 11,000 inmates at Changi Prison Complex, which was linked to six COVID-19 cases between late April and early August.
New inmates are segregated for 14 days before they are allowed to join the general inmate population. They are swabbed for COVID-19 at the start and end of their segregation period.
When an inmate tests positive, he or she is isolated, and the prisons will conduct contact tracing.
So far, five confirmed cases have been detected through these measures.
Those who were close contacts were tested for COVID-19 - and all of them tested negative, according to the Singapore Prison Service.
Second superintendent (SUPT) Luke Leong at Institution B2 of Changi Prison Complex said: “The cases that we have come across in prisons, which have been reported, they have all been isolated cases and they are unlinked from each other."
“They are unlikely to have been contracted within prisons or have spread within prisons.”
The prisons are also keeping tight controls on the numbers allowed in living and work spaces.
At the remand prison, cells are designed to house up to four inmates each, a rule that is strictly adhered to, according to SUPT Leong.
“There are other prisons, some of which may be designed to house up to eight inmates per cell, some of which will be designed to house up to one inmate per cell,” said SUPT Leong.
“Regardless, we never go beyond the design capacity of the cell, and we will never house more inmates in a cell than what it is designed for.”
One staff nurse also tested positive, although it is unclear how the nurse contracted the virus.
READ: Three inmates, one nurse at Changi Prison tested positive for COVID-19 between April and May: SPS
PRECAUTIONS TAKEN BY PRISON STAFF
Prison staff put on personal protective equipment when interacting with suspected cases, and wear masks at all times.
They also take their temperatures twice daily and are told not to report to work if they feel unwell.
Since July, the prisons have been progressively swabbing staff who have been in contact with confirmed cases.
While Yusuf feels safe in prison, the father of three said his biggest fear now is his family contracting COVID-19 outside.
Visits were stopped during the circuit breaker, but family members were able to stay in touch through 15-minute phone calls.
“The phone calls really got us together,” said his sister Farah (not her real name).
“Especially for my father who is bedridden, he still had the opportunity to talk to my brother, so this is ... I'm really grateful.”
In-person visits resumed in August, with the usual precautions in place.
Visitors have to stick to allotted time slots and each visit lasts 20 minutes.
Cleaning is carried out at every cubicle after each session.