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Police hunt escaped prisoners in southern Italy after quarantine sparks riots

Italian police are on Wednesday hunting for 11 prisoners who escaped in the aftermath of jail riots sparked by fears over coronavirus, as authorities began to test inmates and distribute face masks.

Police hunt escaped prisoners in southern Italy after quarantine sparks riots
Italian riot polic stand guard outside a prison. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Those still on the run were part of a group of 72 inmates who escaped on Monday from a prison in Foggia, a city in the southern region of Puglia, the justice ministry said.

They included a 36-year old man, Cristoforo Aghilar, who was arrested last October for killing the mother of his ex-girlfriend, as well as several men with links to organised crime.

At least 6,000 prisoners took part in the riots, which broke out on Sunday at prisons across the country, Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede told Senate on Wednesday, which was nearly empty due to new restrictions on group assembly.

Twelve inmates died, mostly due to overdoses after rioters stormed prison infirmaries, and 40 guards were wounded, the minister said.

Inmates' relatives outside a prison in Naples holding a banner reading “Right to health for all prisoners, amnesty and pardon for all”. Photo: AFP

At the medium-security prison of Foggia, a few prisoners set their sheets and mattresses on fire on Monday, attracting the attention of guards. At the same time, a group of about 200 men managed to force open the doors of an exit corridor and some reached the outer limit of the prison and scaled the outside walls, Bonafede said.

The prison suffered serious structural damage, he said.

Before the riots, inmates had objected to new restrictions on visits by family members designed to keep coronavirus – which has already killed 631 people in Italy as of Tuesday night – out of the country's overcrowded prison system.

“It's evident that so many prisoners are worried, especially in overcrowded conditions, about the impact of coronavirus on inmates' health,” Bonafede said.

READ ALSO: The everyday coronavirus precautions to take if you're in Italy

About 100,000 protective masks were being distributed throughout the prison system, while tests for coronavirus would soon be conducted on inmates who had recently been transferred between institutions, he said.

Amnesty International Italy said on Monday it was “deeply concerned” by the rioting and stressed that the “critical hygienic-sanitary conditions” in jails demanded the utmost precautions be taken to limit the risk of contagion.

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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