China finds spike in coronavirus cases in jails, officials fired

BEIJING (Reuters) – The new coronavirus has infected 234 people in two prisons outside the province at the center of the epidemic and top officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks have been fired, authorities said on Friday.

The infections found in the two jails, in the northern province of Shandong and the eastern province of Zhejiang, made up most of the 258 newly confirmed cases on Thursday outside the central province of Hubei, where the most cases have occurred.

Hubei province on Friday also revised up its total number of confirmed infection cases by 220 to account for cases in the province’s prison system. It did not say when the cases had been diagnosed.

Authorities sacked the chief of the provincial justice department in Shandong after the extent of the outbreak in Rencheng prison in Jining city was detected. In all, 207 people at the jail tested positive.

The jail discovered its first case in a prison officer on Feb. 13. Seven prison officials were also fired, authorities told a media briefing.

The outbreak revealed that some departments had “poorly implemented their responsibilities, their work was not solid and epidemic prevention measures are inaccurate”, said Yu Chenghe, deputy secretary-general of Shandong provincial government.

A prison in Zhejiang province has also reported an outbreak, with 27 prisoners found to be newly infected this week.

The director and Communist Party chief of the Shilifeng prison in Zhejiang were sacked and an investigation into the outbreak has been launched, the provincial government said on its social media site.

Shandong health officials said they had designated a hospital in Jining to treat the virus patients and would also allocate facilities within the prison for treatment.

The surge in cases detected at the two prisons ended 16 straight days of declines in new cases in China excluding Hubei.

China has found 74,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 2,100 people have died, most in Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast.

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