After 28 migrants tested positive for the coronavirus, the Italian interior ministry has asserted that there is no health risk for the rest of the country because they have been quarantined. The COVID-19 positive migrants were among 211 people rescued by NGO Sea-Watch last week.
The Italian interior ministry said on Wednesday that "procedures adopted for migrants disembarked from the Sea Watch vessel and transferred for mandatory quarantine to the Moby Zaza, docked off Porto Empedocle, are guaranteeing the complete safeguard of the country's health security."
The statement was released after 28 rescued migrants on the Moby Zaza quarantine ship tested positive for the coronavirus. The migrants were rescued along with 183 others by the Sea-Watch 3 earlier last week and arrived in Sicily on Suday.
A health ministry spokesperson said that "for the entire period of quarantine, measures of total isolation were adopted for individuals" and that "safe inter-personal distance" was maintained in all cases.
"Confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients were isolated on the ship," the spokesperson said, adding that a "red zone" was created on the vessel which is accessible only to healthcare workers wearing protective equipment. The other migrants are being screened twice a day to ensure they don't develop symptoms, in particular respiratory disease symptoms, they added.
Local officials made similar statements. "The ship is closed, sealed off," the prefect of Agrigento, Maria Rita Cocciufa, said of the Moby Zaza. "Critical situations must be dealt with and solved adequately."
At the end of the mandatory quarantine, all migrants are set to go through a final and thorough medical screening to safeguard public health once they disembark.
Sea-Watch crew tested
Sea-Watch, the German NGO that operates the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, meanwhile said it had requested a second swab for its crew which first tested negative prior to departure.
"The people who were rescued spent hours, sometimes days, in overcrowded boats. Almost all of them came from periods of confinement or mass detention in inhumane conditions in Libya where, according to a statement published by the International Rescue Committee, COVID-19 cases have doubled over the past two weeks," said Sea-Watch spokeswoman Giorgia Linardi.
The Sea-Watch crew remains on the Sea-Watch 3, which is also anchored off Porto Empedocle.
All new migrants quarantined
The Moby Zazà quarantine vessel was already hosting 47 rescued migrants prior to the arrival of the 211 migrants on Sunday. Swabs were conducted on the 47 migrants after they landed on Lampedusa and no COVID-19 cases were found. The 47 people are hosted in a different area of the ship, separated from the people rescued by Sea-Watch.
One of the 211 migrants from the Sea-Watch 3 had been taken to Caltanissetta's Sant'Elia hospital because he was suspected of having tuberculosis, but the result of a swab subsequently showed otherwise.