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News > Greece

First Case of COVID-19 in a Refugee Camp in Greece

  • Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece.

    Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece. | Photo: AFP

Published 1 April 2020

The unidentified woman lives at Ritsona, a refugee camp some 80 km (50 miles) north of Athens.

A woman who recently gave birth in Greece has become the first refugee to have contracted the coronavirus in the country, Greece’s Migration Ministry said Tuesday.

Greece: Covid-19 Case in Lesbos Spreads Fear Among Migrants

The unidentified woman lives at Ritsona, a refugee camp some 80 km (50 miles) north of Athens and, according to local media, she could be of African origin.

She had given birth last week in a hospital near the camp,  which has a population of about 2,270 and a maximum capacity for 2,674, according to figures from International Organization for Migration (IOM), so it is not yet clear where she picked up the contagion: in her camp, the hospital or elsewhere.

However, health officials are currently investigating the source of the infection, as it is possible the woman contracted the virus while in hospital as well as other authorities try to determine if there are further cases in the camp.

For its part, Migration Ministry said that “the public health organization is already tracking the contacts of this case in recent days, and taking all necessary measures to protect (camp) residents and staff.”

This is the first case among asylum-seekers living in a Greek camp and it occurs amid growing calls from NGOs, doctors and academics for the European Union to evacuate refugee camps amid the new coronavirus pandemic.However, there have been no responses from the government.

Thousands in Greece live in packed and squalid camps, and are therefore at high risk, Al Jazeera reported.

Kayvan Bozorgmehr, a doctor and professor from the School of Public Health at Bielefeld University in Germany, told Al Jazeera that the conditions in Greek refugee camps were potential hotspots for the virus to spread.

"Refugees in camps are at high risk of acquiring infectious diseases due to crowded conditions with poor hygiene and sanitation," said Bozorgmehr.

"It is very likely that refugees will become infected with the ... virus in host communities or in hospitals. An uncontrolled spread in camp contexts, such as those on the Greek islands, may lead to a public health disaster as measures of social distancing and quarantine are impossible in these settings," he added.

There have been 50 recorded deaths and at least  1,415 cases of COVID-19 according to current data, in a country that has a population of almost 11 million.

However, the main concern lies with the overcrowded camps on the islands, the largest of which is Moria on the island of Lesbos. This camp has received the most attention from human rights defenders, as nearly 20,000 people live side by side in a space with a capacity of only 2,500.

For its part, the government has acted in a simplistic and inhumane way so far to confront the situation of the camps, closing them completely, in order to separate them from the local population, which has generated some criticism.

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