Greece quarantines camp after migrants test positive

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are stuck in overcrowded refugee camps across the country. (AP pic)

ATHENS: Greece has quarantined a migrant camp after 20 asylum seekers tested positive for coronavirus, the migration ministry said on Thursday, its first such facility to be hit since the outbreak of the disease.

Tests on 63 people were conducted after a 19-year-old female migrant who gave birth in hospital in Athens was found infected, becoming the first recorded case among thousands of asylum seekers living in overcrowded camps across Greece.

None of the confirmed cases showed any symptoms, the ministry said, adding that it was continuing its tests.

Greece, which recorded its first coronavirus case at the end of February, has reported 1,415 cases so far, and 50 deaths.

It is the gateway to Europe for people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, with more than a million passing through Greece during the migrant crisis of 2015-2016.

Any movement in and out of the Ritsona camp, which is 75km northeast of Athens and hosts hundreds of people, will be restricted for 14 days, the ministry said. Police would monitor the implementation of the measures.

The camp in central Greece has an isolation area for coronavirus patients should the need arise, sources have said.

Ticking health bomb

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are stuck in overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s outlying islands, in conditions that aid organisations say are appalling and which the government itself has described as a “ticking health bomb”.

“This news confirms what we have been repeatedly calling for; it is urgently needed to evacuate migrants out of the Greek islands to EU countries,” said Leila Bodeux, policy and advocacy officer for Caritas Europa, an aid agency.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday evening that Greece was ready to protect its islands, where no case has been recorded so far, but that the EU should do more to improve conditions in camps and to relocate people to other countries.

“Thank God, we haven’t had a single case of Covid-19 on the island of Lesbos or any other island,” he told CNN TV, adding that the government was ramping up heath facilities and its plan was still to alleviate pressure on the islands.

“The conditions are far from being ideal but I should also point out that Greece is dealing with this problem basically on its own… We haven’t had as much support from the European Union as we want.”