image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionNew South Wales is grappling with the proliferation of mice across the state

A mouse plague in New South Wales, Australia, has forced a jail to relocate thousands of inmates while it carries out cleaning and renovations.

More than 400 prisoners and 200 staff at the Wellington Correctional Centre will be moved to other facilities over the next two weeks.

The mice have caused extensive damage to prison infrastructure, including internal wiring and ceiling panels.

New South Wales is suffering from the worst mouse plague in decades.

A bumper grain harvest has boosted the number of the rodents in the south-eastern state, where they have have been wreaking havoc for months, especially at farms.

image copyrightReutersimage captionThe mouse plague has been a major problem for Australian farmers since the spring of 2020

The state prison authority said operations at the jail would be reduced for about four months while it was cleaned, repaired and protected against future plagues.

"Mice have invaded the centre and the damage is to such an extent that we're much better off evacuating the centre for a period of time," said Peter Severin, commissioner of Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW).

Most staff will be redeployed to prisons in the west of the state, while inmates will be transferred to a number of sites, including the Macquarie Correctional Centre.

"The mice start decaying and then the next problem is mites and we just don't want to expose staff and prisoners to anything that could cause harm to their health," Mr Severin said.

He said the infestation had intensified in recent weeks as the mouse plague worsened across the state.

Why is there a mouse plague?

Local media say it started in the spring of 2020 during the harvest season.

It has been caused by a combination of ideal weather conditions for breeding and a bountiful harvest that followed devastating bushfires and a years-long drought.

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With plenty of grain to feed on, and diminished populations of predators that died during the drought, mice have flourished.

While New South Wales has seen the biggest numbers of rodents, the states of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia have also been affected by the scourge of mice.

media caption'The ground just moves with mice'

Citing experts, Australian broadcaster ABC News said there could be millions of mice running amok across these states.

The situation is so bad in New South Wales, there have been reports of infestations at schools, hospitals, supermarkets and family homes.

The plague has hit farmers particularly hard, though, as they grapple with the costs of pest control and the destruction of their crops.