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COVID-19: Evacuation of squalid Greek camps more urgent than ever in light of coronavirus pandemic
The overcrowded and horrific living conditions in the hotspot camps on the Greek islands provide the perfect storm for a COVID-19 outbreak, warns Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders today.
As the first COVID-19 case has been confirmed on Lesbos, elsewhere on the island, evacuation of the camps has become more urgent than ever.
"It would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings in Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. To this day, we have not seen a credible emergency plan to protect and treat people living there."
These hotspots are characterised by chronic, extreme overcrowding, undignified and unhygienic living conditions, and lack of access to fundamental basic services – including healthcare.
As such, the risk of the virus spreading amongst the men, women and children living there is extremely high once they have been exposed.
Cramped conditions make infection prevention impossible
“In some parts of Moria camp there is just one water tap for every 1,300 people and no soap available. Families of five or six have to sleep in spaces of no more than three square metres.
“This means that recommended measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus are just impossible,” explains Dr Hilde Vochten, MSF’s Medical Coordinator in Greece.
All over the world governments are cancelling events and prohibiting large gatherings, but on the Greek island camps, people have no option but to live in close proximity to each other.
Their health is in danger.
“We are in contact with the National Public Health Organization in order to coordinate actions, including health information and case management for local residents and asylum seekers alike,” added Dr Vochten.
“But we need to be realistic: it would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings in Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. To this day we have not seen a credible emergency plan to protect and treat people living there in case of an outbreak.”
Containment policy could have deadly consequences
Health authorities must have a plan that includes measures for infection prevention and control, health promotion, rapid identification of cases, isolation and management of mild cases, as well as the treatment of severe and critical cases.
With none of these in place, the evacuation of the camps on the Greek islands is critical.
Forcing people to live there as part of Europe’s containment policy was always irresponsible but it is on the verge of becoming deadly if no action is taken to protect people.
"Families of five or six have to sleep in spaces of no more than three square metres. This means that recommended measures such as social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus are just impossible."
There are 42,000 asylum seekers trapped on the five hotspots on the Greek islands, which only have the capacity to host 6,000 people in total.
In Lesbos, there are over 20,000 people living in a camp built for 2,840 and on Samos, there are 6,000 people living in a centre for 650 people.
Among them are many patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.
The Greek government and Europe, including the UK, should act as soon as possible and transfer asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation before it’s too late.