Ethiopia records first coronavirus cases in refugee camps
(wionews)—Ethiopia has recorded the first coronavirus cases among its vast refugee population, prompting fears of rapid spread among a “very high-risk” group, a regional health official said Tuesday.
The first refugee case is a 16-year-old Eritrean girl from the northern Adi-Harush camp who travelled to an Orthodox Christian monastery in late May and fell ill shortly after her return, said Samuel Aregay, a public health emergency response officer in the Tigray region.
The girl’s positive test results came back Friday, while two more refugees tested positive on Tuesday, Samuel said.
“There are three cases identified in the refugee camp,” Samuel said.
“The risk is very high to other people who are living in the camp. They are living closely together, with five or six people in very small rooms. It’s a very high-risk area.”
Adi-Harush, with a registered population of 33,928, is one of four camps in Tigray that together house nearly 100,000 people from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
There are more than 170,000 Eritrean refugees nationwide, out of more than 760,000 total in Ethiopia.
Officials at Ethiopia’s health ministry in Addis Ababa said they could not confirm the refugee cases, which have not been detailed in its daily reports.
Ethiopia recorded its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March, and so far its official figures are relatively low with 2,336 cases and 32 deaths.
However more than half of those cases have been recorded in the past 10 days, and the health ministry said last week that cases were “increasing rapidly due to the presence of community transmission”.
The health ministry last week began sending COVID-19 patients in the capital, Addis Ababa, to Millennium Hall, a conference centre that has been turned into a makeshift hospital, after the original facility receiving patients in the city neared capacity.
Several reported COVID-19 deaths, including two announced Tuesday, are cases in which samples were taken from corpses, suggesting that at least some patients are not receiving medical treatment.
In a statement Monday, Health Minister Lia Tadesse noted that officials were “seeing efforts by family members of the deceased to avoid bringing the deceased to hospitals for examination”.
“We understand the anxiety and difficult circumstances, but this examination is important in terms of controlling the disease and ascertaining the status of family members who are dead,” she said.