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First coronavirus case confirmed in immigration detention centre

The first case of Covid-19 in an immigration detention centre has just been confirmed by the Home Office.

The case is at Yarls Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, which houses women and some family groups.

A female detainee has tested positive for the virus. Home Office officials say no one else, either staff or detainees, have tested positive.

Women at the centre are on lockdown and all are panicking. One woman told the Guardian:

We’ve been given a mask and a pair of gloves but they’re not very good. A bottle of hand sanitiser has been put on the landing but everyone has to touch the same bottle to open and close it.

A second woman said:

We are afraid of everything and everyone including each other. There are women from all different parts of the world locked up here. Some have asthma and they are particularly frightened.

The first confirmed case in an immigration detention centre comes in the middle of a legal action calling for the release of hundreds of detainees because of the risk of them contracting the virus within the confined and sometimes overcrowded spaces in detention centres.

Antonia Bright, chair of the organisation Movement For Justice which is providing telephone support to the detainees inside Yarls Wood, said: “There is no way that detention centres can manage the health needs of detainees in a pandemic.

Our experience is that they are overstretched with regular health emergencies let alone the kind of devastation that Covid-19 could cause in these centres. These centres must be emptied and shut down as a matter of urgency. Every delay puts the lives of detainees and staff in danger.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “A woman at Yarl’s Wood IRC tested positive for coronavirus and following guidance from Public Health England, was placed in isolation after displaying symptoms. No other staff or detainees have tested positive for coronavirus.

“Immigration Enforcement is responding to the unique circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak and decisions to detain are made on a case-by-case basis, following the guidance from Public Health England.

“Our priority is to maintain the lawful detention of the most high-harm individuals, including foreign national offenders.”




5,018 confirmed UK cases


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