19:39 GMT06 May 2021
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    GENOA (Sputnik) - Overcrowded migrant shelters in Sicily are highly exposed to coronavirus contamination and totally unsuitable to host people amid the pandemic, Sicilian Health Chief Ruggero Razza said in an interview.

    The Sicilian government has been in confrontation with Rome over a rising number of COVID-19 cases on the Mediterranean island. Sicilian Governor Nello Musumeci tried to close all migrant centers in August but was rebuked by the central government, which said that the public health and migrant policies were within its competence.

    "The conditions of these state structures, which are almost always overcrowded, are definitely unsuitable for hosting people, especially in the midst of a pandemic. In the hotspot of Lampedusa we have observed, having visited it personally, very serious shortcomings coupled with a particularly high exposure to the contagion in relation not only to the migrants, but also to the personnel," Razza said.

    He said the situation elsewhere on the island was "less serious" but still subpar. Infections continue to occur at the reception center in the popular resort town of Pozzallo infections, while another shelter saw migrants and five cultural mediators fall ill with the virus. A pregnant migrant woman who gave birth on board a helicopter on Tuesday also tested positive.

    "The embarrassment is that these structures are within the competence of the [central] state, the order of the president of the region aimed precisely at ensuring health security for Sicilian migrants and citizens. We all know how it turned out," Razza said.

    On the upside, he said, Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte has recently contacted Governor Musumeci to plan for a technical meeting on Wednesday. The Sicilian authorities want to remind Rome of the fact that the region has been dealing with a twin disaster.

    "We will once again reiterate the arguments of Sicily which, amid the indifference from Europe and until now also from the central state, is facing alone an emergency inside another emergency," Razza said.

    He noted that Sicilian task force medical experts continue visiting various migrant reception centers. According to Governor Musumeci, over 7,000 migrants arrived in Sicily in July, and more than 3,000 in August.

    Overall, the island's medical facilities are coping well with the pandemic and prepared for a possible second wave, the official said.

    "There are currently about 1,100 infected people. However, this is a fact and a trend that should not cause more concern than needed, especially if one compares it with the data from other regions of the country even less populated than ours," Razza said.

    The cases for the large part are asymptomatic and the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care is relatively low, the official concluded.

    "It is also ready to face a new possible wave. It is clear that no one wants to expect such situation, but we have a plan that can ensure medical assistance in the event of a surge in hospitalization requests," Razza said.

    The region has enough personal protective equipment, having secured PPE deliveries straight to the front-line during the first wave. That equipment remains available for Sicilian doctors, according to Razza.

    migrants, COVID-19, Sicily, Italy
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