ROME: Italy reported five more deaths on Tuesday (Mar 10) from prison riots linked to the new coronavirus that have now officially claimed 12 lives over three days.
The justice ministry has blamed all the deaths on drug overdoses that occurred after prisoners broke into medical storage rooms.
The claim was impossible to immediately verify through independent sources.
Jails have been ordered to stop visits and limit day releases as part of a broad government response to a disease that has killed 631 people in Italy in just over two weeks.
Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over a health crisis that had infected more than 10,000 people throughout the Mediterranean country.
The justice ministry said the situation in all but one of the 23 jails hit by rioting since Sunday has been brought back under control.
"The only ongoing situation is in (the Sicily jail of) Trapani, where a large group of detainees reached the roof, asking - among things - to be immediately tested for coronavirus," the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said three of Tuesday's deaths occurred in the Rieti prison about 70 kilometres northeast of Rome.
"Initial findings suggest that the deaths may have been caused by the reckless taking of drugs," the justice ministry said.
Another two convicts also died in the Modena prison near the northern city of Bologna. The ministry said nine people have died there in all.
The last two Modena deaths are "suspected to have been caused by reckless drug taking during looting of the infirmatory," the justice ministry said.
It said four security personnel and a health official who had been taken hostage by rioters in Melfi in the south of Italy had all been released.
But it said 22 convicts who escaped the Foggia prison near Italy's southeastern coast were still on the run.
Italy's prisoner rights ombudsman Mauro Delma blamed the riots on prison overcrowding and fears about the rapidly spreading disease.
"It seems that containment measures recommended for all citizens are not acceptable to prisoners who are already facing prison overcrowding," Delma told the RAI News 24 channel.
"This scenario makes for a combustible situation," the ombudsman said.
AFP reporters saw a dozen convicts at the San Vittore prison in Milan climb onto the roof of one of the wings and shout slogans Monday as police and prison guards below looked on.
There were similar scenes at several other prisons as rioters wearing scarves and bandanas over their faces climbed roofs and shouted slogans to television news crews hovering in helicopters overhead.
Relatives rallied outside many of the concerned jails in protest over the measures.
"The unrest that had occurred (Tuesday) in the prisons of Venice, Palermo, Pagliarelli, Caltanissetta, Chieti and Larino ended," the ministry said.
It added that prisoners in a southern town of Foggia were no longer rioting but "still refusing to return to their sections".