Manitoba defends pandemic response plan after outbreak at provincial jail


The Manitoba government says it has implemented several new protocols since declaring a COVID-19 outbreak at the Headingley jail nearly two weeks ago.

The outbreak was announced on Oct. 13 when at that time there were seven inmates who had tested positive with the virus – now those numbers are up to 33.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, a provincial medical health officer, says officials are working to stop the spread.

“We are containing it but it will take some more time to contain that outbreak within the correctional centre,” he told reporters Monday.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, along with Atwal and Greg Skelly, executive director of adult custody for Manitoba Corrections, held a briefing to address the outbreak after what Cullen described as a series of “misleading” information has appeared in the media from the NDP opposition and the union representing corrections staff.

The province is now implementing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for new inmates entering Winnipeg’s Remand Centre, which is where people go when they are first taken into custody, COVID-19 testing for all new inmates and temperature checks for staff.

“From a public health perspective we know that there is zero risk that’s possible… so we want to mitigate the risk as much as possible,” said Atwal.

There are currently six staff from Headingley who have tested positive for the virus along with five staff from other corrections locations in the province.

There is also one youth who tested positive at the Agassiz Youth Centre.

Atwal confirmed the virus was brought into Headingley by a guard who went to work for two days while asymptomatic.

“There was an interaction with an inmate, which lead to the virus coming within corrections,” he said.

Cullen says the outbreak was to be expected and applauded staff for their work in addressing the number of cases.

“We’re not unique in Manitoba with correction facilities now being impacted. We see outbreaks in other provinces and other jurisdictions as well.”

However, NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine says the province isn’t doing enough.

“People who are incarcerated are Manitobans. They’re citizens, they’re entitled to rights, they’re entitled to be safe while they’re incarcerated…and we’re not seeing that right now,” said Fontaine.

There are about 1,900 inmates in custody throughout Manitoba, according to the province, and about 470 of those inmates are in isolation due to the virus.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.