Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovakia reported its first confirmed case of Covid-19 infection in the country’s Roma community, local watchdog Romea.cz reported on Sunday, citing Peter Pollak, a member of the country’s crisis task force.
Slovakia reports first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Roma settlements
On Friday last week, the Slovak government started testing for coronavirus several dozen Roma settlements throughout the country after it appeared that a number of Romani had violated the self-quarantine rules despite returning from trips abroad, including from the U.K. The testing is being carried out by the Slovak military.
“If the virus is in the Romani settlements, it will kill people there just as it did in Italy”, Peter Pollak warned in an interview. “Our action is meant to save lives”.
According to experts, Romani settlements could be a dangerous breeding ground for the spread of Covid-19 due to the poor sanitary and hygiene conditions prevalent in many of them.
Pollak also dismissed critics who claimed authorities were singling out Slovakia’s Roma minority. “On Friday, 2,000 people were tested in Slovakia, 49 of whom were Romani”, he explained.
An additional 196 and 220 Romani people were tested for coronavirus on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
“Not a demonstration of power”
Despite fears that sending the Slovak army to carry out the testing could be met with hostility by the Roma community, largely marginalized, socially excluded and often living in slum conditions, the operation appears to be going ahead peacefully.
“They said their fears were not confirmed and that the testing was performed sensitively and painlessly”, commented Andrea Buckova, the government’s special envoy for Romani affairs. “At the same time, they praised the collaboration with the police and the military experts in civilian cooperation”.
Slovakia’s military should continue testing 33 selected Roma settlements until Thursday. The results should be made available shortly after. The quarantine of entire settlements remains an option only in the most extreme cases and if an important share of residents is infected with the virus.
“It is by no means a demonstration of power”, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said last week when he announced the plan. “We just want to make use of doctors in uniform to start fast-testing in the settlements without further overloading the regular health system”.
According to official statistics, there are over 100,000 Romani currently living in Slovakia, accounting for some 2% of the population.
Main photo credit: Slovak Defense Ministry