Officials suspend personal visits with inmates in Ontario, federal prisons over COVID-19 concerns

Personal visits with inmates at Ontario and federal prisons have been suspended over concerns about COVID-19.

'We all need to stay vigilant and do our part,' say 2 Ontario ministers in justifying the move

Personal visits with inmates at provincial prisons in Ontario and federal prisons across Canada have been suspended. The authorities say the move is necessary in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Concerns about the novel coronavirus have prompted the authorities to suspend personal visits with inmates at Ontario and federal prisons starting on Saturday.

In separate statements, the Ontario government and Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) said they are suspending the visits to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On Friday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the suspension will be in place until further notice but visits with legal counsel will continue.

"These measures are necessary to reduce any potential transmission of COVID-19," the two ministers said.

"We are taking immediate action to ensure the safety of both our staff and those in our custody. We all need to stay vigilant and do our part to ensure the health and well-being of all Ontarians."

On Saturday, CSC said options are available to inmates in place of personal visits. It said family and friends can stay in contact through video chats and telephone calls.

"We remain in contact with public health authorities. We will reassess this situation on an ongoing basis and provide updates as the situation evolves," it said.

CSC said there are no cases of COVID-19 in federal institutions.

As well, CSC said it has an "emergency preparedness and response framework" in place to plan for an outbreak and that framework includes contingency plans, medical responses, equipment requirements and protocols.

In Ontario, the ministers said intermittent inmates who serve time on the weekends will be required to attend their reporting facilities, where they will be given temporary absences from custody and permitted to return home.

The ministers said intermittent inmates have already been deemed low-risk by the courts and remain in the community Monday to Friday to live and work.