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Slovakia orders complete lockdown of 5 Roma settlements to prevent coronavirus spread

Slovakia reported its first cases of coronavirus infection in Roma settlements

Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovak authorities have ordered the lockdown of Roma settlements after confirmation of several cases of coronavirus infection.

The announcement was made earlier this week by the country’s chief public hygienist Jan Mikas.

Slovakia locks down five Roma settlements

Earlier this week, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic said that at least 31 members of the Roma community had tested positive for Covid-19. Reports of infection clusters in five settlements prompted authorities to order the lockdown of these communities. According to public health experts, they’re considered particularly at risk due to poor sanitary conditions prevalent in often crowded and impoverished shantytowns.

“It is not a hostile act. We want to protect people who are in quarantine as well as those who were in contact with them”, Matovic told journalists. Moreover, the newly elected Prime Minister assured that all the necessary precautions would be taken to take care of residents of the sealed-off areas, including food deliveries and access to healthcare services.

Around 800 soldiers have been deployed in the locations concerned by the lockdown. All the five settlements are located in the Spiš area.

Earlier this month, the Slovak government started testing dozens of Roma settlements following reports some of them had failed to self-isolated after returning from trips from abroad. Dismissing some claims that the operation was discriminatory against the Roma, which remains highly marginalized in Slovakia, the government argued that widespread testing had to be carried out to prevent the spread of the virus in already precarious environments.

Precarious conditions

“It will spread much faster in the Roma communities”, MEP Peter Pollak from the ruling OLaNO party warned. “Our action is meant to save lives”, he added.

But some are still skeptical of the government’s actions. While refraining from criticizing the government’s motives, others reminded that additional measures should be taken to cushion the blow and provide a more generous and comprehensive safety net. “They live in poverty and many have lost their income, such as seasonal work, and their children had free meals in schools, which are now closed. The measures should take this into account”, said Andrea Majvirtova, from the NGO People in Need.

On Sunday, Slovakia had 728 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, including a few dozen in the Roma settlements. Two people have died from the disease at the time of writing.

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