Greece on Thursday sealed off a migrant camp near Athens after 21 of its residents tested positive for the coronavirus — beginning with a new mother at an Athens hospital.
“From today the facility is placed under sanitary isolation for two weeks,” the migration ministry said in a statement.
Hours before the new cases were announced, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had praised health safeguards at Greek camps.
“I think we’re pretty good at contact tracing, and you can actually do contact tracing at the very beginning of an outbreak,” Mitsotakis told CNN.
“I think we have a very good track record of dealing with this problem in a very humane manner,” the PM said, referring to dire camp overcrowding.
“We will continue to keep a very, very close eye on what is happening in our camps… We’re ramping up medical facilities,” he said.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on Thursday told E.U. officials that Greece had nominally resumed accepting asylum claims, a procedure suspended in March amid a push by Turkey to encourage a migrant surge.
“This freeze is no longer applicable, from April 1 we’ve gone back to the normal procedures,” the minister said.
But Mitarachi noted that the move – welcomed by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson – cannot yet be applied owing to the coronavirus lockdown.
“For technical reasons, those arriving (from April 1) will not be able to submit a claim for some time because asylum offices are closed,” the minister told Proto Thema radio on Wednesday.
The woman from the Ritsona camp, reportedly of African origin, tested positive after giving birth at an Athens hospital this week.
The ministry said that of 63 people subsequently tested at Ritsona, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Athens, 20 were positive but without symptoms.
No staff were found to be carrying the virus, it said.
The new mother’s case was the first among asylum-seekers living in a Greek camp. The state has run several vaccination campaigns in past years, but no screening had been done for the present virus.
All access to Ritsona camp has been restricted and food will be delivered to the residents, the migration ministry said. Additional medical staff will be sent to the area and all residents will be screened, it added.
As of 1600 GMT on Wednesday, Greece’s population of 11 million had recorded 50 deaths and 1,415 cases of novel coronavirus.
Greece is sheltering some 100,000 asylum seekers, mostly in camps and in hotel rooms and flats, Mitarachi said Thursday.
In the camps on the Greek mainland and islands, where tens of thousands of asylum seekers live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, regulations have been announced to keep residents as far from the local population as possible.
The governor of three Aegean islands with the largest asylum-seeker populations in camps, Constantinos Moutzouris, on Thursday urged the government to evacuate the migrants.
“There is an immediate and enormous danger of the virus spreading inside (camps) and consequences would be disastrous,” Moutzouris said in a statement.
“The immediate removal of (camp) residents from the island… is imperative,” Moutzouris said.
The government has already ruled out moving migrants en masse to the mainland, where there are far more confirmed virus cases among the general population.
The migration ministry on Thursday said that another asylum-seeker living in a flat in the northern city of Kilkis had tested positive after giving birth at a local clinic.