March 24, 2020 / 12:22 AM / 18 days ago

Samoa hunts escaped prisoners during coronavirus state of emergency

SYDNEY, March 24 (Reuters) - Eight prisoners remained at large in Samoa on Tuesday morning, police said, after a mass prison break in the Pacific nation which is under a state of emergency to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Several prison guards were treated at hospital after being injured as 29 men broke free from the island’s new Tanumalala Prison, police and local media initially reported on Monday evening.

Samoa, with a population of 195,000 living on two main islands, has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and stopped flights to Australia and reduced flights to New Zealand to once a week under emergency measures.

Cinemas and restaurants have been closed, and emergency orders state that “a national period of fasting and prayer is to be observed by every family in Samoa” until March 29.

After arresting some of the men of Monday night, police posted pictures of the 16 prisoners still at large on Facebook. On Tuesday morning, three men had turned themselves in, while another was caught by villagers in Fasitoo-uta, police said.

“They are dangerous fellas these guys so we’re trying to get them in as quick as we can and we’re going to go all the way until we capture these nine remaining guys,” the Samoa Observer reported Police Commissioner Fuiaviali’ili Ego Keil as saying.

Samoa has a recent history of prison breaks, with its prisons minister making a public apology last year after two escapes in four months. But Monday’s breakout was from a $25 million new prison that was expected to stop the problem.

Other Pacific nations are seeing COVID-19 cases grow, with Guam recording 29 cases, French Polynesia 23 cases, Fiji three cases, New Caledonia seven cases and Papua New Guinea one case. (Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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