Prisoners in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown rioted early on Wednesday, killing one guard and setting their jail ablaze, an official said.
“This morning we saw fire billowing from inside the prison and loud noise from inmates shouting for help,” said Cecil Cole Showers, a spokesperson for Freetown’s Pademba Road Prison.
A guard was killed and dozens of inmates and guards were injured, he said.
A resident near the prison also told AFP that gunshots had been fired.
By late morning on Wednesday, security forces had been deployed around the prison and residents in the area ordered to stay indoors.
Details about the cause of the unrest were sketchy, but the government had said on Monday that a recently arrived inmate had fallen ill with coronavirus.
The West African state has recorded 104 cases to date, with four fatalities.
As with other poor countries in the region with fragile health care systems, there are fears that Sierra Leone is ill-equipped to handle a large outbreak.
The former British colony’s prisons are chronically overcrowded and unsanitary.
Colonial authorities built Pademba Road Prison in 1914 with a capacity for some 300 inmates and the jail now houses over one thousand.
Local NGOs had earlier raised concerns about jail overcrowding and urged the government to release prisoners with minor convictions to ease the risk of infection.
In the statement on Monday, the government said that it was suspending criminal courts for a month, to stem prison contamination.