VALLETTA (Reuters) - Sixty-five migrants who were in a group of 94 people rescued at sea and taken to Malta on Monday have tested positive for COVID-19, Malta’s health ministry said on Tuesday.
It was the single largest cluster of positive cases detected on the Mediterranean island since the first case came to light there on March 7.
The health ministry said 85 of the migrants had been tested so far, with nine awaiting an examination. It gave no further information about their condition. The nationalities of those infected were not given, but their dinghy was believed to have set sail from Libya.
“Migrants arriving by boat are immediately quarantined for 14 days and tested. The migrants who are positive will continue to be isolated and the rest will remain in quarantine and followed up,” the ministry said.
“This group arrived in Malta together and were in contact with very few other people before they were tested,” it added, playing down the likelihood of locals getting infected.
The migrants had issued a distress signal from their packed dinghy on Sunday but it took more than 30 hours for rescuers to reach them.
Non-governmental agencies have accused both Malta and Italy of deliberately slowing down rescue missions in an effort to dissuade people from putting to sea and seeking a better life in Europe.
The discovery that so many of the group had COVID-19 will bolster concerns in both countries that a recent increase in new arrivals will undermine local efforts to eliminate the disease.
Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Janet Lawrence