Lesvos. Greece. The first case of COVID-19 on Lesvos was confirmed Monday by local media. The patient is a 40-year-old woman who was part of a group tour to Israel and Egypt a few weeks ago and many other members of the group are also sick. She has been put in isolation at Mytilene hospital.
Schools in the village that her children attended have been closed for several days. The woman is an employee at a local supermarket in Plomari and could have infected multiple people. We will continue updating our digests as more information comes in.
As a response to the increasing number of cases in Greece (the health ministry reported 11 new ones on Monday alone, although they did not mention Lesvos), the government has imposed some quarantine measures. Public gatherings are banned, several schools and universities are closed, and sporting events will be held without spectators.
It is ironic that it is a Greek person who is the first case of a COVID-19 infection on Lesvos after weeks of fear-mongering against people on the move. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis used fears of coronavirus to justify setting border controls to “maximum deterrent” levels. He is not alone as his ideological bedfellows across Europe, for example Viktor Orban, also used fears of coronavirus to justify increased border violence. However, facts are not likely to stop xenophobia. As the arrival of coronavirus on the Greek islands moves from a possibility to a reality, the possibility of hate crimes and violence will also become very real.
Although COVID-19 is not in itself a very deadly disease, it can be lethal for vulnerable populations, such as those who are already ill. Many people in camps on Lesvos or other islands have preexisting health conditions that have not been treated due to inadequate medical facilities. There are only a few doctors for thousands of camp residents and they are already overburdened — their workload if an epidemic spreads through the camps would be unbearable. People cannot access healthcare outside of the camps due to discrimination and their lack of AMKA numbers. Sanitary conditions in the camps are also horrendous. Most people do not have access to soap and hot water, making one of the most important precautions against infectious diseases — washing hands — nearly impossible.
A UNHCR team traveled to the Greek border to advise people on the move about coronavirus. Official Margaritis Petrizikis described the team’s mission as providing information to the Greek government about containing the spread and providing information to people on the move about “the basic principles of hygiene personal prevention.” However, the sanitary problems facing camps in Greece are not caused by people from outside Europe not knowing how to wash their hands, but by unhygienic living conditions created by the powers that manage these camps. It is unclear how people on the move are supposed to practice “hygiene personal prevention” when they are denied access to soap, water, and medical care.
There are some people working to stop the spread of disease in Lesvos. Stand by Me Lesvos, working with Refugee Corona Information Resource, published a Corona Information Center specifically for people on the move. The page in Farsi can be found here (Warning Facebook Link), and they are working on creating pages in English, Arabic, and French. To support the work they are doing, you can donate here (Warning Facebook Link) .
As a coronavirus epidemic in the camps becomes more and more likely, its consequences are likely to be tragic. It is important to remember that none of this was inevitable but that every death on the islands is due to deliberate negligence by the Greek and EU governments.
On Sunday the Cars of Hope collective will travel to Greece again to support refugees. They need your support to continue their work.
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