138 out of 175 migrants in a hostel in Lisbon tested positive for coronavirus in Portugal on Sunday. They have been placed in quarantine | Photo: Reuters / Rafael Marchante
138 out of 175 migrants in a hostel in Lisbon tested positive for coronavirus in Portugal on Sunday. They have been placed in quarantine | Photo: Reuters / Rafael Marchante

Portgual will test 500 asylum seekers for the novel coronavirus and transfer some into flats and hotels left empty by tourists. The decicion comes after 138 coronavirus cases were reported at a Lisbon shelter last week.

500 migrants housed in hostels across Portugal will be tested for the novel coronavirus, and some will be moved to empty flats in an effort to prevent the further spread of the virus, reports news agency Reuters.

The outbreak at a migrant hostel last week promted scrutiny of overcrowding at other migrant facilities in Portugal that could lead to contagion. A single case at a hostel in Lisbon revealed that 138 out of 175 residents had contracted the virus.

Empty apartments across the country

The interior ministry on Sunday said it was planning to “take advantage of the reduced pressure on the housing market in the capital” to move some asylum seekers to hostels and apartments left empty because of the lack of tourists this summer.

In Portugal, the Council for Refugees (CPR) is responsible for housing people while their applications are being processed. CPR however has capacity for just 150 so that the remaining applicants are put up in hostels or social housing.

Currenlty 800 asylum seekers are housed in hostels across the country. The number of asylum applicants in Portugal has increased nearly threefold in the past five years to 1,716 in 2019.

Concern over crowded facilities 

Monica Farinha, head of CPR, told Reuters she was concerned that the conditions of the hostels, with several people to a room, meant there was a high risk of contagion.

The health ministry on Sunday announced that a study of Portugal's coronavirus cases indicated that co-habitation and contagion in concentrated spaces such as care homes and the Lisbon hostel were the top causes of transmission of the disease. Portugal has over 23,800 coronavirus cases. 

The country is preparing to ease a lockdown imposed on March 18 and currently in place until May 2, but the health minister urged people to remember that social distancing measures would need to continue to avoid a resurgence in cases, Reuters reports.

With Reuters

 

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