Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for the immediate evacuation of migrant camps on Greece’s islands, arguing that the conditions there provide “the perfect storm” for a COVID-19 outbreak.
“The evacuation of the camps on the Greek islands is now more urgent than ever,” the charity said.
“We need to be realistic: It would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings,” MSF said, adding that it had not yet seen a credible emergency plan in case of an outbreak.
More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are living in camps, which are operating far beyond their capacity on five Greek islands.
“In some parts of Moria camp there is just one water tap for every 1,300 people, and no soap available,” said Hilde Vochten, the organization’s medical coordinator in Greece told Vice.com.
“Families of five or six have to sleep in spaces of no more than three square meters [32 square feet]. This means that recommended measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus are just impossible,” she added.
Aid agencies are doing what they can to prepare for an outbreak among refugees, with the U.N. Refugee Agency appealing for an urgent $33 million needed for the response. Aid workers are training staff and issuing them protective gear, equipping labs to carry out diagnostic tests, building new latrines and wash facilities, and spreading awareness on hygiene.
But reminders on handwashing are of little use in camps with little or no access to clean water. Aid workers know if an outbreak hits, the situation could swiftly become catastrophic.