COLOMBO – Inmates unhappy about the coronavirus threat at an overcrowded prison near Sri Lanka's capital have clashed with guards who opened fire, leaving eight prisoners dead and 59 others injured, officials said Monday. Two guards were critically injured, they said.
Pandemic-related unrest has been growing in the country's prisons. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the facilities.
More than a thousand inmates in five prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least two have died. About 50 prison guards have also tested positive.
Senaka Perera, a lawyer with the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, said the inmates at Mahara prison near Colombo had been frustrated because their pleas for coronavirus testing and separation of infected prisoners had been ignored by officials for more than a month.
Sri Lanka has experienced an upsurge in coronavirus cases since last month when two clusters — one centered at a garment factory and other at a fish market — emerged in Colombo and its suburbs.
Confirmed cases from the two clusters have reached 19,449. Sri Lanka has reported a total number of 22,988 coronavirus cases, including 109 fatalities.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Hong Kong has imposed sweeping curbs to stop a fresh spike in coronavirus infections, closing government offices and swimming pools and limiting public gatherings to two people. The announcement follows a decision to close schools for in-person teaching the rest of the year. The territory’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, announced 76 new confirmed cases. That was on top of 115 infections reported Sunday. Lam said the upsurge is “very severe.” Lam said government employees, except those in emergency services, would work from home. She said private employers were asked to do so as well if they could.
— Cambodia’s Education Ministry is ordering all schools to close after a rare local outbreak of the coronavirus. It says public schools will remain shut until until Jan. 11, the start of the next school year, while private schools must close for two weeks. Officials said over the weekend that a family of six and another man tested positive for the coronavirus. Eight more cases were reported Monday among residents of Phnom Penh who were in contact with the family. Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed concern that the woman believed to be the source of the outbreak had traveled extensively in the country. About 3,300 people in seven provinces who were found to have had contact with the family are having themselves tested, the ministry said. Also on Monday, the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry announced the closure of all theaters and museums and the prohibition of public concerts for the next two weeks.
— India has recorded 38,772 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving its overall total to 9.43 million. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 443 deaths in the same period, raising the death toll to 137,139. India continues to have one of the lowest deaths per million population globally, the ministry said in a statement. For more than three weeks now India’s single-day cases have remained below the 50,000 mark. The capital, New Delhi, has also seen a dip in daily infections. It reported fewer than 5,000 new cases for the second consecutive day. On Sunday, it recorded 68 deaths, driving the capital’s total to 9,066. India is second behind the U.S. in total reported coronavirus cases. In an effort to slow the virus’s spread, the home ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions such as night curfews but has asked them to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district or city levels.
— Japan says a fast-track arrangement for business-related travel with China went into effect Monday. The deal was agreed during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Japan last week for talks with his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi. The fast-track arrangement allows travelers to engage in limited business activities during a 14-day quarantine period after arrival. Motegi said in a statement that he hoped the arrangement will contribute to promote people exchanges between the two neighbors. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters that resumption of international travel is “indispensable” for the recovery of the pandemic-hit economy. He said the government will also do utmost to maintain adequate border control as Japan struggles with a recent resurgence of the virus.