A moment of the landing of 39 migrants who reached Pozzallo on board the ship 'Ocean Viking on January 21, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ FRANCESCO RUTA
A moment of the landing of 39 migrants who reached Pozzallo on board the ship 'Ocean Viking on January 21, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ FRANCESCO RUTA

The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has urged Italian authorities to let NGO-run vessels carry out rescue operations without quarantining them in connection with the coronavirus emergency. "Putting rescue vessels in quarantine is like stopping an ambulance in the middle of an emergency," the organization said.

The organization's rescue ship Ocean Viking has been put in quarantine in Pozzallo, Sicily, due to the outbreak of coronavirus. 

Doctors Without Borders on February 27 urged Italian authorities to release their migrant rescue vessel Ocean Viking from a quarantine which was implemented to the current outbreak of coronavirus. 

''When Italy was affected by the epidemic of coronavirus (Covid-19), Ocean Viking, the search-and-rescue vessel operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterrannee, was quarantined after disembarking 276 people rescued at sea over the previous days'', the organization said in a statement. 

''However, it is clear at this point that these measures of quarantine are implemented in a discriminatory manner only for search and rescue ships." 

'Quarantine means stopping ambulances at sea' 

MSF Head of Mission for the Mediterranean and Libya Michael Fark said putting search-and-rescue vessels in quarantine was like ''stopping an ambulance in the middle of an emergency." 

''Over the past 48 hours we have received new reports of boats in danger in the central Mediterranean. We are deeply concerned for these people. We have respected all preventive measures and at the moment there is no reason to believe that any member of the Ocean Viking's crew has been or is at risk of contracting the virus. As requested by Italian authorities, the temperature and state of health of all of the boat's personnel is checked and communicated by MSF doctors on board twice a day'', he added. 

'Urgent for Ocean Viking to return to service' 

"While the conflict in Libya is getting worse, migrants and refugees trapped in the country have no other choice but to risk their lives by fleeing across the Mediterranean. It is urgent for the Ocean Viking to return at sea to rescue men, women and children," stressed Fark. 

"The legitimate concern for public health imposed by the management of coronavirus does not justify preventing rescue efforts;" MSF said, stressing that the "priority is saving human lives."

The organization stressed that 32 crew members and a journalist are on board the Ocean Viking, which has been docked off Pozzallo since Sunday, February 23. MSF medical staff on board is trained to implement all preventive measures, including those for Codiv-19, following the protocols of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Italian health ministry. After landing in Pozzallo, the 276 survivors were quarantined and nobody tested positive for Codiv-19.
 

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