EU member Cyprus has begun testing its migrant population for the COVID-19 lung disease. The ethnically divided island country, split by a demarcation line not recognized as a border, has become a popular destination for migrants in recent years.
Cypriot authorities have started screening 10% of migrants confined at the country's two migrant reception centers for the novel coronavirus.
That’s according to Cypriot Interior Ministry official Loizos Michael, who told The Associated Press on Thursday that health care workers this week began carrying out tests on just over 100 migrants.
Michael said that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 thus far among migrants who were confined at the centers. In March, the government imposed a strict, countrywide lockdown. It also closed several border crossing points with the northern part of the island to better check for potential coronavirus carriers.
The official further said the migrants' confinement will end on May 21, when all restrictions on movement will be lifted -- provided the COVID-19 infection rate remains at the current level, which is minimal.
Cyprus has received some 3,000 asylum seekers since the start of the year, with most arriving before the lockdown came into effect in late March. Also in March, the government had introduced a series of measures to curtail the number of arrivals.
The eastern Mediterranean island is divided between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus (RoC), an EU member state, and the Turkish-administered northern side.
Call to identify at-risk migrants
Meanwhile, a Cyprus-based nonprofit called on Cypriot authorities to work together to identify migrants afflicted with Thalassaemia, an inherited genetic blood disorder characterized by decreased hemoglobin production.
According to the Thalassaemia International Federation, those with Thalassaemia could be more at risk if they contract the coronavirus.
On the eve of International Thalassaemia Day, marked on May 8 each year, the nonprofit's executive director, Dr Androulla Eleftherou, told The Associated Press that health authorities need to immediately register the "hopefully few" migrants who have the genetic disorder.
The goal of the registration, Eleftherou said, is to maintain Cyprus' successful efforts in containing the spread of coronavirus.
According to the Johns Hopkins University, Cyprus, with a population of around 880,000, so far has close to 900 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15 deaths as a direct result of contracting the lung disease.
To put things into perspective, neighboring Turkey, a country with roughly 100 times more inhabitants, has more than 130,000 confirmed cases and over 3,500 deaths.
High number of asylum requests
In the months before the coronavirus outbreak, several migrant boats carrying Syrians reached Cyprus. However, unlike fellow EU-member Greece, Cyprus did not see a wave of migrants trying to enter after Turkey on February 28 announced it was "no longer able to hold refugees" heading across the EU border.
Still, Cyprus has one of the highest first-time asylum seekers per capita rates among all European Union member states (relative to the countries' population size).
According to recent data from EU statistics agency Eurostat, Cyprus topped the list last year: In the last three months of 2019, Cyprus saw 3,728 first-time asylum requests per 1 million residents, followed by Malta (2,725), and Greece (2,613).
In late March, police in the northern part of the island said they rescued over 170 migrants a day after authorities from the RoC refused to let a migrant boat dock due to the coronavirus crisis.
With material from AP