HMP Birmingham has been described as a “difficult setting” to reduce Covid transmission by a health chief following news of an outbreak.

The city’s Covid outbreak engagement board this week heard there has been a “large number of cases” at the Winson Green prison which is skewing case rate figures.

The city’s public health director Dr Justin Varney has said the outbreak was responsible for the high case rate currently being seen in the Soho and Jewellery Quarter ward – currently the ward with the highest rate in the city at 308.1 cases per 100,000 as of this week.

The Prison Service has not given numbers of infections at the prison but has said precautionary measures in line with public health guidance are being taken.

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Today (Feb 26) at the regional Covid-19 media briefing, regional leaders spoke on what was known about the outbreak.

Dr Lola Abudu, the director for health and wellbeing at Public Health England in the West Midlands, said: “I can’t provide specific details but our local public health teams are working with Dr Varney and colleagues from the prison to manage the outbreak.

“You will know that any close setting is always a difficult setting with so many people under the same roof.

“So they will be putting in place all of the measures in terms of social distancing, testing regularly, trying to segregate those affected so we can reduce transmission within the setting.

“Given the numbers of people we are talking about and the rapidity infectious conditions can travel within a prison, it’s understandable that the local ward statistics have been impacted by this.”

Birmingham City Council leader Cllr Ian Ward said the council is “are aware of the outbreak” and that it is “skewing the figures” showing a high case rate in Soho and the Jewellery Quarter.

As to measures in place to protect prisoners and staff, he said: “Dr Varney is engaged with the authorities there and working very closely with them.”

HMP Birmingham is a category B prison housing around 1,000 men in single and shared rooms.

The prison has 11 wings, including an older prisoners unit, a drug recovery unit and a first night centre.

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