'Up to six dead' as Italian prisoners revolt against coronavirus measures

9 March 2020, 11:26 | Updated: 10 March 2020, 09:11

Inmates of a Naples prison have been revolting against new coronavirus measures
Inmates of a Naples prison have been revolting against new coronavirus measures. Picture: Getty

Up to six people have died as prison inmates in Italy erupt into revolt against new coronavirus measures, according to local reports.

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Riots in a Modena prison in the north of Italy have left up to six dead and one other person seriously injured as inmates protest against the government's plan to suspend their visitation rights amid Covid-19 fears.

Two prison officers were injured and roughly 20 staff members were forced to leave, as prisoners set fire to the building.

The army and military police were called in to prevent inmates from escaping into the town. Order was eventually restored as the authorities suppressed the riots.

Meanwhile, detainees in a Naples prison climbed on to the roof of the building on Sunday in protest against the government move. Elsewhere, in Foggia, south-east Italy, up to 50 inmates reportedly escaped from a jail.

Officials are fearful that allowing people in and out of jails could allow coronavirus to spread due to the close quarters of prisons.

The government measure comes as more than a quarter of Italy's population - 16 million people, mostly in the north - were placed in quarantine to try and combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

Relatives of the inmates at the Neapolitan prison were pictured outside clashing with police and riot officers.

Detainees in several other prisons across the country - including Frosinone in central Italy, Alexandria in the northwest and Palermo on Sicily - have been rioting in response to the new measures, unions said.

The human rights organisation Antigone called for immediate action to be taken in order to quell tensions in the jails.

The statement said: "We had already warned tensions were growing in prisons, and that we feared it could end in tragedy.

"All necessary measures must be taken to ensure prisoners their full rights, stopping this escalation of tension and preventing others from dying.

"One death is already too much."

Relatives of inmates in Poggioreale prison clashed with riot police
Relatives of inmates in Poggioreale prison clashed with riot police. Picture: Getty
Some of the riots have reportedly been quelled and order somewhat restored
Some of the riots have reportedly been quelled and order somewhat restored. Picture: Getty

Reports suggest that 100 inmates at a prison in Frosinore, south of Rome, barricaded themselves into a section of the prison.

They demanded the right to be visited by their loved ones and made attempts to negotiate with the centre's management, according to the Agi news agency.

A media leak on Saturday about the lockdown in the north caused mass panic, leading thousands to rush to train stations in an attempt to flee the regions.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree just after midnight that affected the Lombardy region - including its capital, Milan - and at least 14 provinces in neighbouring regions. The measure will remain in place until 3 April.

The country has now registered more cases of coronavirus than any country outside China, while its death toll has risen to 366.

The number of confirmed cases is 7,375, up from 5,883 the previous day. The number of deaths rose from 233 to 366 on Sunday - the steepest daily rise in fatalities since the outbreak began.

Mr Conte said: "For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory.

"Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues."

Anyone who attempts to break the rules of the quarantine could face a fine of several hundred Euros and up to three months in prison.