Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan health officials prepare to collect swab samples to test for COVID-19 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Colombo: Update:

Intermittent gunfire rang out Monday at a Sri Lankan high security prison where a riot by inmates over a surge of coronavirus infections left at least eight dead and 55 wounded, police said.

Hundreds of police surrounded the Mahara prison just outside the capital Colombo as prison guards sought to end the unrest.

Inmates fought with guards on Sunday and into the night after setting fire to the kitchens and briefly took two warders hostage, residents and police said.

"The two officers have been rescued and hospitalised," police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.

"The situation is under control."

Six hundred officers, including 200 police commandos, were deployed around the perimeter, he added.

Prison authorities would not say however whether they had taken back the whole Mahara complex.

The bodies of eight inmates were taken to the nearby Ragama hospital, medical sources said. Another 55 wounded prisoners, some in critical condition, were admitted on Sunday night.

Inmates broke out of their cells to protest over a surge of coronavirus infections, officials said.

Six inmates were killed and 35 others were injured when guards opened fire to control a riot at a prison on the outskirts of Sri Lanka's capital, officials said on Monday. Two guards were critically injured, they said.

Pandemic-related unrest has been growing in Sri Lanka's overcrowded prisons. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the facilities.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said inmates created "unrest'' Sunday at Mahara prison, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Colombo, and officials attempted to control the situation.

But "the unrest situation turned into a prison riot,'' he said, adding that prisoners tried to take control of the prison and hundreds attempted to escape.

The guards opened fire, and the clash left six inmates dead and 35 injured, he said. Two prison officers were critically injured.

He said hundreds of additional police were deployed to help the guards and strengthen security around the prison.

An inmate was killed in similar unrest at another prison last week. Another died in March.

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.

Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested with more than 26,000 inmates crowded into facilities with a capacity of 10,000.

Sri Lanka has experienced an upsurge in the disease 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.