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Canberra Today 17°/21° | Monday, December 6, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Worst nightmare’: Julie calls for better protection at AMC

INDIGENOUS health leader Julie Tongs says her worst nightmares have been confirmed after an Alexander Maconochie Centre prison officer, who was on duty for a number of days this week, tested positive to COVID-19. 

The case was recorded more than nine days after Ms Tongs, the CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, called for COVID-19 vaccinations to be mandatory for prison staff.

According to today’s (October 1) covid press conference, the prison officer was fully vaccinated, however, a spokeswoman from the ACT COVID-19 Public Information Coordination Centre last week revealed that vaccinations are not mandatory for prison staff but rather “encouraged”.

Ms Tongs is again calling on the ACT government “to stop sitting on its hands and do everything in its power to ensure all detainees in the AMC are accorded every conceivable protection from the covid virus”. 

She has repeatedly called on the ACT government over the last 18 months to ensure that all detainees are vaccinated, and that vaccination be mandated for all prison officers as well as any other persons entering the AMC, regardless of their designation.

“The lives of detainees were at heightened risk because of the generally poor  health status which many endure. It was therefore vital all detainees be immediately vaccinated,” she says. 

Ms Tongs continues to be concerned that the ACT government had not mandated that all prison officers or indeed any person, including Justice Health staff and statutory office holders entering the AMC be fully vaccinated.

“The unique circumstances of people detained in prison, namely that they are under the control of and in the care of the state,  meant that the responsibility to protect them from harm, including from prison officers who  may reasonably be thought to be infected with a life-threatening virus, is absolute,” she says. 

“While it is tempting to focus on whether the failure of the ACT government to have in  place systems to prevent covid positive prison officers from entering and working inside  the AMC was negligent rather than incompetent it is far more important to focus on ensuring that the apparent failure to prevent this from occurring and potentially risking the lives of detainees not happen again.” 

Ms Tongs says she’s concerned that in its response to this incident the government had appeared to be far more focused on preventing the flow of information to the public about the fact a prison officer had tested positive to covid than it was in ensuring that the family and friends of detainees in the AMC were informed of the break down in AMC systems and that all detainees were safe and that their welfare and health could be guaranteed. 

“CityNews” yesterday requested confirmation and comment from Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman’s office but was passed on to the Justice and Community Safety Directorate. The Justice and Community Safety Directorate passed us on to the ACT COVID-19 Public Information Coordination Centre.

An ACT COVID-19 Public Information Coordination Centre spokeswoman would not confirm any cases over the phone, but in an email to “CityNews” revealed that ACT Health was yesterday (September 30) advised that a COVID-19 case had attended the Alexander Maconochie Centre on multiple days this week.

“This case was not a detainee,” the spokeswoman said.

It wasn’t until the ACT covid press conference that ACT Health confirmed the case as a staff member.

Prison in lockdown after confirmed covid case

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