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Greece quarantines second migrant camp after COVID-19 case confirmed
April 5, 2020
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece has quarantined a second migrant facility on its mainland after a 53-year-old man tested positive for the new coronavirus, the migration ministry said on Sunday.
The Afghan man lives with his family at the Malakasa camp along with hundreds of asylum seekers. He has been transferred to a hospital in Athens.
Tests on his contacts will continue as the public health agency tries to trace the route of the virus.
On Thursday, authorities quarantined the Ritsona camp in central Greece after 20 tested positive for the coronavirus. It was the first such facility in Greece to be hit since the outbreak of the disease.
Greece was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict in 2015-16. More than 110,000 people currently live in migrant facilities across the country – 40,000 of them in overcrowded camps on five islands.
“The number (of migrants and refugees) is very large, therefore it is a given, mathematically, that there will be confirmed cases,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV. “We have an emergency plan in place … But it is more difficult to implement it on the islands.”
No cases have been recorded in camps on Greek islands so far.
The conservative government wants to replace all existing camps on islands with enclosed detention centres, but its plans have been met with resistance from local authorities and residents who want all facilities shut.
Aid groups have urged Greece to evacuate the camps, warning the risk of the fast-moving virus spreading among people living in squalid conditions is high and containing an outbreak in such settings would be “impossible”.
The camp in Malakasa, 40km (25 miles) northeast of Athens, will be put into quarantine for two weeks, the ministry said on Sunday, adding police guarding the site would be reinforced to ensure the restrictions are implemented.
A separate, enclosed facility started operating last month for migrants who arrived after March 1, the ministry said.
Greece recorded its first case of the new coronavirus at the end of February. Since then, it has confirmed 1,673 cases of COVID-19 and 68 deaths.
It has imposed a nationwide lockdown and banned arrivals from non-EU countries as well as Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain. The measures have hit its economy which is relying on tourism for a recovery after a decade-long debt crisis.
Finance Minister Christos Staikouras reiterated on Sunday the economy was expected to shrink by about 3-4% this year, but added Greece had a 37-billion euro ($40 billion) cash buffer that it could tap into to support it.