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First Prisoner Dies of Coronavirus in Italy, Watchdog Group Calls for Early Releases of Inmates

Emergency services in Catania join a ceremony to mark a minute's silence around Italy on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Emergency services in Catania join a ceremony to mark a minute's silence around Italy on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Two prison guards have died of the virus, and 19 inmates out of a total inmate population of 58,000 have tested positive, according to Italy's justice ministry.

A first prisoner in Italy has died of coronavirus, a prison watchdog group said on Thursday, calling for more early releases of inmates from the country's overcrowded system.

Two prison guards have died of the virus, and 19 inmates out of a total inmate population of 58,000 have tested positive, according to Italy's justice ministry.

"The first prisoner death from COVID-19 confirms all our worries about the tragic consequences of a contagion within prisons," said prisoner rights group Antigone in a statement, without providing further details.

Over 120 guards have tested positive, Antigone said.

Italy has reported over 110,000 cases of coronavirus. More than 13,000 people have died, representing the world's highest death toll for coronavirus.

Prisons, where small cells are often shared by three inmates, are a particular public health worry, especially since 67% of inmates have at least one already existing health condition, Antigone said.

Pope Francis specifically mentioned prisoners during his prayer on Sunday, saying that coronavirus within the crowded prison system "could turn into a tragedy."

Thousands of masks and gloves have been sent to prisons around the country after guards complained about being unprotected and untested.

Also on Thursday, the justice ministry said that all prisoners and prison staff in the southern region of Campania would be tested beginning next week.

Last month, Italy announced plans to release up to 3,000 low-risk inmates serving sentences of less than 18 months to house arrest to reduce overcrowding.

But Antigone argued on Thursday that another 10,000 prisoners should be allowed to serve their sentences at home, including those with existing health conditions for which a coronavirus infection "could be fatal."

first published:April 02, 2020, 20:56 IST