ALMOST 30 prison officers, medical staff and inmates had to self-isolate following a Covid-19 outbreak at Magilligan Prison.
The cluster was discovered at the jail near Limavady after a member of its medical staff was diagnosed with the virus.
In a response to an Assembly question, Justice Minister Naomi Long said that while nine Magilligan employees had tested positive, Covid-19 had not spread to the general prison population.
Jail authorities were alerted to the initial positive test by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust on October 7.
Mrs Long said: "As a result, 17 other healthcare staff were required to self-isolate.
"Subsequently, seven members of staff from the trust and one member of staff from the Northern Ireland Prison Service tested positive.
"When the trust informed the prison service about the positive cases, the service's track-and-trace arrangements were activated and a deep clean of the healthcare unit was completed.
"Five prisoners were placed in isolation as a precaution. To date, no prisoners have tested positive."
Visits to the jail were suspended in the first week of October, but the full extent of the cluster has only just been revealed.
The medium-security facility has a capacity of around 450 inmates and is known for being the main jail in which paedophiles are housed.
Just a week before the Covid-19 outbreak was discovered, Mrs Long visited Magilligan to see its "sewing bee", made up of around 12 inmates who stitch gowns, masks and other items of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health service and care home staff.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 2,000 items of PPE, including scrubs, face masks, isolation gowns and wash bags, have been produced by the prisoners.
In response to the Assembly question, Mrs Long added that strict coronavirus control measures had been reintroduced and health trust staff transferred to the jail to help with containment and treatment.
"Older and more vulnerable prisoners in Magilligan are housed in H2, which has been our shielding unit. It has strict operating procedures and protocols in place," the justice minister explained.
"When shielding was paused, we allowed a limited relaxation of these stringent measures.
"Those strict procedures that previously applied have now been reintroduced.
"Members will be aware that the responsibility of prison healthcare falls to the trust.
"They have redeployed medical staff to Magilligan and have assured the prison service that they have sufficient healthcare staff at Magilligan to provide an appropriate level of cover.
"They continue to work closely with the governor."