27th February, 2020
Greece will tighten border controls to prevent the spread of coronavirus, focusing on island routes used by migrants to enter the country, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday.
His comments came as Greece reported two new cases of coronavirus, bringing its total of confirmed cases to three, two in the northern city of Thessaloniki and one in Athens.
“The Athens case involved a Piraeus Bank employee who had travelled to Italy,” a bank official said.
The bank asked all staff who worked on the same floor as the infected employee to work from home for the next 14 days.
Greece is a gateway for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, with over one million having passed through the country in 2015 and 2016.
Thousands of migrants are stuck in overcrowded refugee camps in conditions aid organisations say are appalling and which the government itself has described as a “ticking health bomb”.
“Our islands are already overburdened with public health issues and they must be doubly protected,” Mitsotakis, whose administration has taken a tough stance on migration, told a cabinet meeting.
Mitsotakis said he had invoked a European Union directive allowing member states to elevate border security if public health was at risk.
“Putting it simply, we will do whatever it takes to prevent the appearance of the virus, particularly there,” he said, referring to the islands.
According to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, there are over 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers on Greek islands.
It noted that many have waited for months for their applications to be processed.
Governments ramped up measures to battle a looming pandemic of the coronavirus as the number of new infections outside China for the first time outpaced new cases in the country where the outbreak began.
After a decade-long debt crisis, concern is growing over the potential impact of the virus on Greece’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism.