Campaigners have called for urgent action to protect prison staff and inmates from the impending spread of coronavirus after it emerged that one prisoner had died inside Belmarsh prison.

So far 10 prisoners have died after contracting Covid-19, one in the high-security Thamesmead jail, whilst 116 prisoners have tested positive and 19 prison staff.

Now campaigners have warned that failure to drastically and urgently reduce the number of prisoners behind bars to protect them and others from coronavirus "will have a devastating impact.

Meanwhile, officials at Public Health England (PHE) and the Prison Service (HMPPS) have advised 15,000 prisoners will have to be released from jails in England and Wales to properly protect other inmates and staff during the outbreak, the PA news agency understands.

No high-risk criminals - such as those who have been convicted of violent or sexual offences, anyone who is a national security concern or a danger to children - or those who have not served at least half of their custodial term will be considered for release.

A total of 116 prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19 in 43 prisons as of 5pm on Monday.

There are 19 prison staff in 12 jails who have contracted the virus as well as four prison escort and custody services staff.

Just six pregnant inmates have been released from prison so far since the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced a move to grant temporary release a week ago, according to the Commons Justice Committee.

Pregnant women - who are considered to be high-risk should they contract Covid-19 - would be granted temporary release from prison "within days" to protect them and their unborn children from coronavirus, the MoJ said on March 31.

The decision also included mothers who are behind bars with their young children.

But prison governors would only consent if they passed a risk assessment and do not pose a high risk of harm to the public.

There are currently 35 pregnant prisoners and 34 inmates in mother-and-baby units across 12 women's prisons in England. Charity Women in Prison said the government was taking "too long" to act, adding: "Failure to act with urgency to drastically reduce the number of people in prison will have a devastating impact on all of our communities.

"Now is not the time for complacency, the government must act fast to release the remaining pregnant women and many more people from prison with the housing and support they need. "The Government need to demonstrate leadership on this crisis. Further inaction will result in more avoidable deaths both inside and outside of prison and a public health catastrophe."