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Five prison officers in Northern Ireland tested positive for Covid-19

Justice Minister Naomi Long said her thoughts are with them and their families.

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Five prison officers have tested positive for Covid-19 (Michael Cooper/PA)

Five prison officers have tested positive for Covid-19 (Michael Cooper/PA)

Five prison officers have tested positive for Covid-19 (Michael Cooper/PA)

Five prison officers in Northern Ireland have tested positive for Covid-19, the justice minister has said.

Naomi Long said her thoughts with are with the individuals and their families.

Giving evidence to Stormont’s justice committee, Ms Long also revealed that so far no prisoners in the region have tested positive for the virus.

There are just over 1,500 prisoners in Northern Ireland, but a number were given temporary release amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 120 prisoners given temporary release, eight have been returned to custody for not complying with regulations, Ms Long added, with most of the contraventions relating to drugs and alcohol.

Ms Long said infection control measures have been put in place within custodial environments, including precautionary isolation for new committals as well as personal protective equipment for staff.

“None of the prisoners or young people in our care have tested positive for Covid-19,” she said.

“Five prison officers have tested positive for Covid-19 and our thoughts are with them and with their families at this difficult time.”

Ms Long also gave an update on a temporary mortuary prepared at Ministry of Defence property at Kinnegar, Co Down.

I sincerely hope, having visited the site, that we never need to use it.Naomi Long

She said she had made a Military Aid from a Civil Authority (MACA) request to use a part of the base, and described how it has been transformed of “large empty industrial sheds” to “possibly the best morgue facility on these islands”.

“Staff in my department, partners and contractors worked extremely hard to develop this site within a very short time frame and it has been handed over now from the contractors,” she said.

“I sincerely hope, having visited the site, that we never need to use it.”

She added: “It is our intention that we could keep the facility and that we would have it in the event that there were any future issues.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said “the point that needs to be made is that the military can be used in the most discrete manner, but have a really big impact”.

Ms Long responded: “For some in our community the involvement of the military is still an issue of sensitivity … to be fair, the military are also aware of that and therefore the site they have given us is self-contained, it’s not branded, it’s completely centrally managed. They were really conscious of their wish to ensure that anyone who would use that facility would feel comfortable and confident about using it.”

PA