March 16, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affected the whole world. The virus transformed the refugees life but also our everyday work.
Greece was largely spared by the global pandemic until August 2020, when the number of daily reported cases exceeded 100 for the first time. Similarly, on Samos, no case was detected before July 2020. The first lockdown in March and April 2020 notably reduced the spread in Greece. On Samos, upon the announcement of the first cases in town, the refugee camp was placed in containment, then the rest of the island. The measures are among the most restrictive in Europe: all non-essential movements are prohibited. Lockdown is gradually lifted from May 4, 2020. Summer 2020 is a return to normal life, except for the Samos camp, which is put under lockdown again from September - following a growing number of cases detection.
Despite the announcement of a second national lockdown on November 7, 2020, the island of Samos is declared exempt from these measures due to the earthquake of October 30, 2020. This earthquake, magnitude 7.0 on Richter scale, caused enormous damage to the island, which the tsunami that followed made worse. For these reasons, and to facilitate reconstruction, Samos did not enter lockdown with the rest of the country in November. In addition, few cases were declared on the island, until February 2021.
On February 5, 2021, cases of COVID-19 are announced within a brigade present on Samos, but the contaminations are contained. However, a few days later the virus is detected in town. Finally, on February 26, the first cases in the camp were reported. On February 27, with 7 cases in the camp and others in cities, lockdown was announced by the authorities. The lockdown is progressively lifted, restaurants and bar opened again at the beginning of May.
The refugee camp was the first to be quarantined on Samos. The rest of the island quickly followed, however the measures do not translate in the same way for the refugees and the inhabitants of the city. In addition, the camp's lockdown has not been lifted since September. Moreover, the restrictions and the pandemic add to the set of pre-existing difficulties and disasters.
The camp's lockdown translates to a limitation of its inhabitants' exits by the authorities. Only one person per "household" is allowed to go out for a limited amount of time. This limitation leads to the creation of long queues at the exit of the camp, where distancing is difficult to implement. In addition, this makes it difficult for the patients to access our clinic and refugee support organizations in general. Thus we decided to open an in-site clinic, directly at the entrance of the camp - the authorities being more flexible, knowing that the refugees are not going to the city. In addition, the rule of one person per family impeded some patients from coming to us - for example, parents were refused the exit of the camp with their sick child, so they came to us alone, to try to obtain medication without prior examination.
Restrictions linked to the pandemic have caused the closure of many psychosocial organizations and services critically needed by refugees. With many education or rest places for refugees shut, a lack of psychological support was deeply felt. Despite the setting up of remote consultations with the help of MSF, the restriction of social life, already poor, had an undeniable impact, which was particularly evident in children. Most of our patients fled war and distress, only to endure chaos in the camp, fires and earthquakes, forcing many refugees to relive some trauma.
Moreover, Covid-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions have not put an end to recurring complications of life in the camp. Indeed, two fires broke out in the camp on November 2 and 11, 2020, destroying the shelters of more than 1,000 people.
In March 2020, travel restrictions and uncertainty reduced the number of volunteers who could join our team - so much so that we were down to six by the end of March 2020. In addition, each new volunteer had to spend 14 days in quarantine before being able to work in the clinic, increasing the financial cost to volunteers.
We developed a set of stricter measures for our volunteers to ensure a minimum risk for them and the patients - a population vulnerable in view of their state of health and living conditions. For example, volunteers are not allowed to visit homes other than their own, or to invite community volunteers to their homes. Well aware of the impact on morale, we determined this system with different alert levels calculated according to the number of cases on the island - in town and in the camp.
The pandemic affected our volunteers beyond their work at the clinic. Of course, they had to respect the Greek restrictions, but also the preventive measures put in place by Med'Equali Team.
We developed a system of stricter measures for our volunteers to ensure minimal risk for them and the patients. For example, volunteers are not allowed to visit homes other than their own, or to invite community volunteers to their homes. Well aware of the impact on morale, we determined this system with different alert levels calculated according to the number of cases on the island - in town and in the camp.