AN EXPLOSION of Covid cases at Winchester prison has turned part of the city into one of the UK's worst Covid hotspots.

There are 78 prisoners and 22 staff members who have the virus – with 87 inmates and 18 employees isolating due to showing symptoms or being contacted by track and trace.

According to Government statistics the Winchester West area, comprising Weeke and Fulflood, has a rolling rate of 662 cases per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the country.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said that "precautionary measures" are now in place at the Romsey Road jail.

"Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons," they said.

"We have taken precautionary measures at Winchester, in line with public health guidance, and will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Most other areas of the Winchester district have been reporting a steady drop in the number of cases.

Sarah Rigby, South West representative of the Prison Officers Association, said: "There are the usual processes in place to try and protect staff and prisoners – masks, social distancing and PPE.

"The nature of Winchester prison, with its very narrow landings makes social distancing extremely difficult and the added pressure of being a local prison also makes things difficult."

Winchester is also a Category B local prison with a high number of inmates coming in and being released every day.

Ms Rigby added: "As long as courts continue to operate prisons will continue to receive prisoners and a number of prison transfers must take place to ensure the spaces at local prisons remain available for the courts."

They added that prison workers should be prioritised for the vaccine.

"At least then, they and their families are afforded a level of protection. They have worked on the front line throughout this pandemic, putting themselves at risk every time they walk through the gate.

"All prisons should be running a very restricted regime but we would also be in favour of a 14 day circuit breaker lockdown in establishments such as Winchester, in an attempt to bring this outbreak under control. No transfers in or out and all prisoners to remain in their cells with a minimal regime offered."

The reason for the high number of cases in Winchester West had been baffling many people. Covid rates have been falling across most of the district for several weeks. Posters on the Chronicle website suggested its proximity to the railway station or cases in local care homes.

The release of inmates from a hotspot back into local communities creates the likelihood of a transmission of cases.