Coronavirus: First confirmed case in Greek migrant camp as new mother tests positive

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - An asylum seeker living in a migrant camp on the Greek mainland was found to have coronavirus after giving birth at a hospital in Athens, Greece’s migration ministry said on Tuesday.

The woman, from the Ritsona camp 80 kilometres north of the capital, is the first to test positive for Covid-19 among migrants living in squalid conditions in the country's overcrowded camps.

Tens of thousands of people are housed in camps on the mainland, and there are another 36,000 people crammed into the overstretched, unsanitary refugee centres on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos.

The ministry said another person living with the new mother had tested negative for the virus.

"The public health organisation is already tracking the contacts of this case in recent days, and taking all necessary measures to protect [camp] residents and staff," the ministry said.

Refugees and migrants walk in a dirty road heading to the Turkish-Greek border and trying to enter Europe, in Edirne, Turkey. EPA

A migrant carries his baby as they walk on railways toward Meritsa river, near Edirne, to take a boat to attempt to enter Greece by crossing the river. AFP

A UNHCR first reception center for the refugee and migrant arrivals in Skala Sykamias is seen on fire as local residents block the area around it. AFP

Locals, who prevent migrants on a dinghy from disembarking at the port of Thermi, beat a journalist, as a woman tries to stop them, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. REUTERS

Greek riot police and the army hold positions as migrants toss rocks and other projectiles on the Greek-Turkish border gate in Kastanies, Greece. Getty Images

Refugees and migrants are rescued by rope from an island in the middle of Evros river after becoming stucked for the past two days after trying to cross from Turkey to Greece in Edirne, Turkey. Getty Images

A hooded migrant who, along with other migrants wants to cross into Greece from Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing, prepares to throw a stone at a Greek riot police officer, in Kastanies, Greece. REUTERS

Migrant children from Syria are seen on a road side near Turkey's Ipsala border crossing with Greece's Kipi, in Edirne, Turkey. REUTERS

Migrants receive food distributed by non-governmental organizations near the Pazarkule border gate in Edirne, at the Turkish-Greek border. AP Photo

Migrants cross Meric river as they walk towards the Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing with Greece's Kastanies, near Edirne, Turkey. REUTERS

A group of refugees set up tens against the wind and gather around a fire as they wait to cross the Meric (Evros) river to reach Greece at the Turkish-Greek border, in Edirne, Turkey. EPA

Refugees are being carried by cart heading to the Turkish-Greek border and trying to enter Europe, in Edirne, Turkey. EPA

Greek riot police and the army hold positions as migrants toss rocks and other projectiles on the Greek-Turkish border gate in Kastanies, Greece. Getty Images

Members of the Greek far-right hold a demonstration in front of the Greek-Turkish border gate in Kastanies, Greece. Getty Images

Greek border guards stands behind the border fences in Edirne, Turkey. Getty Images

Refugees and migrants from various countries wait on the shoreline for a boat to cross the Evros River in an attempt to reach Greece from Turkey in Edirne, Turkey. Getty Images

Ten medical staff at the hospital where the woman gave birth have been quarantined and three other people who shared the same ward are being tested, a hospital source said.

The first confirmed case within the Greek migrant camp system prompted alarm over potentially devastating outbreaks among asylum seekers, who often live in unhygienic and cramped conditions with poor access to clean water and medical care.

Nicolas Perrenoud, spokesman for the Swiss-run NGO One Happy Family which supports migrants on the island of Lesbos, told The National it was "only a matter of time" before coronavirus spread to the camp.

Medecins Sans Frontiers had earlier said that the evacuation of Greece’s overcrowded camps was “more urgent than ever”, as the first case of the virus was confirmed on Lesbos, where the sprawling Moria camp is located.

“In some parts of Moria camp, there is just one water tap for every 1,300 people and no soap available,” MSF’s Medical Coordinator in Greece, Hilde Vochten, said. “Families of five or six have to sleep in spaces of no more than three square metres,” Dr Vochten said.

“This means that recommended measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus are just impossible.”

A Greek woman in her Seventies on Monday became the first person to die of Covid-19 on the Aegean island. There have been 49 recorded deaths and 1,314 cases of coronavirus across Greece, which has a population of 11 million.

The country has called for “urgent” EU backing to prepare for possible outbreaks within its camps. “It is extremely important to act in a timely manner to avert such a possibility," Giorgos Koumoutsakos, a junior migration minister, told EU internal affairs ministers in a teleconference on Friday.

A European Commission spokesperson this week said the bloc was "working with the Greek authorities to assist them in preparing an emergency response plan to deal with a potential outbreak of the coronavirus on the islands".

In the camps, regulations have been announced to keep residents as far from the local populations as possible. The movement of camp residents will be drastically curtailed for the next several weeks, with access to nearby communities only allowed to small groups under police supervision between 7am and 7pm.

Specialised medical teams have been deployed to the camps and virus isolation areas, and inspection points are being set up. Camp access to outside visitors is also barred, though aid and rights group representatives may still enter.

Updated: April 1, 2020 01:45 PM

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