Six inmates have been killed in a prison riot in Italy, while guards at another institution were briefly taken hostage as unrest spreads in prisons across the country over measures to contain the new coronavirus – particularly opposition on restrictions on visits.
Italy's government has imposed a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy northern regions at the epicenter of the contagion in an effort to contain the virus, which as of Sunday had killed 366 people.
In a TV interview, the head of Italy's prison administration, Francesco Basentini, said three inmates had died inside a jail in the northern town of Modena, while three others had died after being transferred from the prison.
"There have been a series of riots across the country," Basentini said. Footage shown on Italian television showed police and fire trucks outside the prison as black smoke swirled into the sky.
The Justice Ministry said fires had been set at a number of prisons, causing severe damage.
Prison guard union Sappe said two guards had been taken hostage in the northern city of Pavia and were released after a police raid.
In an emergency decree on Sunday, the government imposed limits until March 22 on direct contact between inmates and their families. Prisoners will be allowed to contact visitors by phone or other remote methods under the measures.
Modena and Pavia are within the red zone that the government has established to limit the coronavirus contagion.
Justice Ministry sources said two of the deaths in Modena were caused by an overdose of drugs found in jail infirmaries. A third prisoner was found blue in the face, with the cause of the death still unclear.
The prison unrest could add to political pressure on the government coalition of the center-left and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said: "The gates of the prisons shouldn't be thrown open with the excuse of the revolts."