In these extraordinary times, the simple act of staying home has saved lives. Yet there are those on the front lines of the fight against Covid-19, who have reported for duty every day to keep our nation and our people safe.
The men and women of Correctional Services, like their counterparts in health, defence, police and the metro police have been our vanguard in this fight.
Sadly, there have been a number of incidents where Department of Correctional Services personnel have suffered stigma, most notably in public places.
The stigma varies from members of the community pointing fingers at those wearing the brown uniform, to extreme cases where shop owners deny corrections officials access to their outlets. This state of affairs is simply untenable and cannot be allowed to continue.
During this trying period for humanity, society throughout the world has pulled together in extraordinary ways. We have witnessed human solidarity across the globe, as nations and people reach out to help and support each other.
This deadly virus has brought out the best in humanity and has shown us all that working together for the greater good is the only way.
It is, therefore, disheartening that those on the front lines are unfairly, and without justification singled out by the very communities that they are serving. It is demoralising and detrimental to the health and mental well-being of those who render essential services during this trying time.
We realise that there is still fear among some members of the public around the coronavirus. However, such fear is irrational, especially given the massive public education campaign about the virus.
Practising good hygiene and maintaining social distance is key to this fight, whether in a shopping mall or at a correctional facility. The idea by some that corrections facilities are hotbeds of infection is simply not true; in fact, it is a total fallacy.
Our facilities are regularly sanitised and the appropriate disinfection protocols are in place. Health-care teams are on site, armed with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes goggles, gloves, masks and gowns, rendering care services to distressed cases and monitoring those likely to develop acute respiratory challenges.
Furthermore, we are working with the Department of Health and provinces to secure a list of hospitals and healthcare centres where inmates could be transferred in case they require admissions.
Within prisons, we are also ramping up social distancing practices. During meal times, our units or wings are divided in order to avoid a concentration of inmates and officials in open spaces.
It is important to note that there are 243 corrections centres throughout the country and only six of these have reported positive cases of the virus thus far. The extraordinary protective and prevention measures we have put in place will, therefore, remain in force to keep our staff, inmates and the broader population safe.
Regular health screening will continue, and we are continually improving our environmental and personal hygiene practices. The standard practice of providing all necessary PPE will continue, along with sanitisation and decontamination interventions.
Keeping our people safe is a priority and we strongly reject reports that inmates and officials are not protected against the virus. It is however, a reality that as long as the virus continues to spread in populations, correctional centres, along with their local communities will remain vulnerable.
But this is the case in every facet of society; Covid-19 will continue to spread if we don’t follow the rules.
Attempts to associate Covid-19 with a particular workforce are irrational and will only reverse the gains the country has achieved thus far. What is indisputable, is that the virus stands as a clear and present danger to our nation, our people and our way of life.
All of us have a role to play in preventing the spread. When out in public observe the social distancing rules, wear a mask and regularly wash your hands. This is not the time for pointing fingers; stigma can only undermine social cohesion and encourage social isolation of certain groups. We dare not allow this to happen, this is a fight for our very lives and our future.
We need all hands on deck; those on the front lines are our shield and they will continue to keep us safe.
* Ronald Lamola is Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.