Dramatic COVID rate rise in England’s smallest county 'caused by prison outbreak'

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
WREXHAM, WALES - MARCH 15:  A prison guard walks through a cell area at HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017 in Wrexham, Wales. The mainly category C prison is one of the biggest jails in Europe capable of housing around to 2,100 inmates.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Coronavirus cases have increased in a prison in England's smallest county. (Getty Images)

A dramatic rise in the coronavirus infection rate in England’s smallest county has been attributed to an outbreak in a prison.

According to the latest seven-day rolling data, the county of Rutland, which has a population of 40,000, has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in England.

On Monday, the East Midlands county reported 199 new cases in the week ending 4 February, the equivalent of 498.4 cases per 100,000 people.

This was a significant increase from the previous week, up to 28 January, when the number of new cases was 65, giving a rate of 162.8 cases per 100,000.

Watch: Vaccine rollout begins in England’s prisons

But Alicia Kearns, the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, said she understands “around half” of the new cases in the county can be attributed to an outbreak at HMP Stocken prison in Stretton.

In a statement on her website, she wrote: “The COVID-19 outbreak at HMP Stocken worries us all, and my thoughts are particularly with staff who have worked so hard during the pandemic and all those with loved ones who have tested positive.

“The governor and his team have my full support and confidence that they will get this outbreak under control, indeed they kept Stocken’s prisoner community COVID-19 free for all of 2020.

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“I understand that currently around half of all cases of COVID-19 in Rutland are in the prison.

“Over the next few weeks there will be media headlines that will rightly concern us all locally stating that Rutland has one of the greatest increases in rates of COVID-19 in the UK.

“Rutland is a relatively small community, so outbreaks will suggest rates of increase which would not be as stark if we were a larger community.”

Last month, Labour warned of a “public health emergency” unfolding in prisons as coronavirus cases rise.

Kearns said the prison had a number of measures in place, including pausing all transfers, rolling out more testing, shielding vulnerable prisoners and enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.

She said COVID-19 vaccinations started at the prison last week, with those aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable given jabs in line with nationwide practices.

At the weekend, The Sun reported that jailed paedophile Gary Glitter was among the sex offenders given the COVID-19 vaccine at HMP The Verne in Dorset.

A former prosecutor said the former singer’s vaccination will “protect those around him” in prison.

Kearns said: “We will see rates of COVID-19 continue to rise at Stocken, and therefore Rutland, over the next two weeks as a result of the increased testing planned to identify everyone who has the virus.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has confirmed there have been cases at the prison, but would not release a figure on how many.

Mike Sandys, director of public health for Leicestershire County Council and Rutland, told the BBC the prison outbreak probably involved “tens of cases”.

He said: "It doesn't take so many cases, given the small size of Rutland's population, for that to make a really big difference to the rate.

"There is at least some reassurance for local people - it isn't that we're seeing a massive increase in community transmission, it is contained within the prison setting."

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