Saudi Arabia vaccinates about 68 pct of state security prison inmates

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About 68 percent of detainees in Saudi Arabia’s state security prisons have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to sources who spoke to Al Arabiya.

According to sources, there is a current list of inmates who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and work in ongoing to schedule them for inoculation soon.

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Sources confirmed to Al Arabiya that the COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in batches to groups of inmates at a time to ensure they are safe and not exposed to any other complications, following guidelines set by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health.

“The vaccination is not compulsory,” according to a source who added that at the same time “inmates have been educated and guided, and they also follow health developments through news channels. Therefore, the choice was left to them, not enforced.”

Some inmates were unsure regarding the vaccination at first but had followed up on developments in the Kingdom through watching the news and being guided by health professionals.
“Inmates are a part of society, and therefore, it is natural for their opinions to multiply, between those who support vaccination, those who are conservative, or are suspicious of it,” according to one Al Arabiya source.

“After the occurrence of the second wave of infections in Saudi Arabia, and the great campaign that the Ministry of Health launched encouraging inmates, there was a significant increase in the number of those wishing to receive the vaccine,” the source said.

For those wishing not to receive the vaccine, sources who spoke to Al Arabiya confirmed that “no measures would be taken against them and no one will be forced to take the vaccine as it is the choice of the individual in the end.”

Early precautions

Precautionary measures were implemented early in the prisons of Saudi Arabia’s General Investigation Department since reports began to emerge of COVID-19 cases breaking out in China and before the first cases of infections were reported in the Kingdom.

For example, during a visit to the General Investigation Prison in Dammam, in early February 2020, I an Al Arabiya reported noticed that a health checkpoint had been established at the entrance to the prison leading to visitors’ rooms where a guest’s temperature was checked, along with an indicative board about public safety.

After Saudi Arabia began implementing nationwide health measures, entry into all prisons was prohibited for non-inmates or those working in them.

“There were very strict instructions to be careful, and not to leave any loophole from which the virus could leak into the prison, because the safety of inmates is the responsibility of the prison administration, and a duty guaranteed to them by the regulations in force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” one source told Al Arabiya. “Any suspected case of an inmate being infected was immediately isolated in a special, medically equipped ward, and was monitored by a specialized team working around the clock.”

New measures were also introduced for those detainees who were imprisoned during the pandemic. According to information provided to Al Arabiya, an entire ward has been designated for “medical isolation” that matches the standards followed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, whereby a PCR test is performed for new detainees who are then placed in isolated rooms until they receive a negative result. Once a negative result is returned, prisoners are then transferred to the standard inmate rooms.

For those new inmates who do return a positive PCR test for COVID-19, they remain in isolation, are monitored, and given the necessary treatments. A periodic PCR test is performed and inmates are only removed from medical isolation once a final negative PCR test is confirmed.

Family visitations

During the beginning of the strict precautionary measures, family visits in prisons were halted and were replaced by phone calls only. Video communication was also made available for some cases later on.

Currently, family visits are being allowed in some prisons where strict precautionary measures are being followed. All visitors are asked to present their “Tawakkalna” app which displays their health information. Shortly after COVID-19 restrictions were eased in Saudi Arabia, prison administrations thought of alternative solutions, including direct visitations following health protocols.

Al Arabiya sources explained that family visitations are based on a strict schedule to ensure no overcrowding in prisons. Every family is transported to visit the prison building with a private car after showing each of their “Tawakkalna” app. The family is allowed an hour with their relative in prison. The family is then returned to the reception hall and the car is sterilized and prepared for the next family.

The “legal retreat” for married couples has also resumed for those who wish to utilize it. The “legal retreat wings” are sterilized and a prisoner’s wife is not allowed to enter until she submits a negative PCR test certificate.