PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovak authorities have lifted a quarantine on one of five Roma settlements locked down in early April to prevent the spread of coronavirus from the communities, chief public health officer Jan Mikas said on Saturday.
Slovakia closed off the settlements on April 9 after reports of a cluster of coronavirus cases in them, highlighting difficulties faced by Europe’s largest ethnic minority during the pandemic.
“Sixteen days ago, we were forced to impose quarantine on five Roma settlements. Today, the first, at Bystrany, we can open and lift the quarantine here,” Mikas said during a televised press conference just outside the settlement.
Roma communities across eastern Europe are impoverished, plagued by high unemployment and historically the target of discrimination, and the coronavirus outbreak has many feeling more vulnerable.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic praised the settlement’s residents for their discipline.
“Today, an ordinary Roma settlement of Bystrany becomes an example for the whole of Slovakia. The people here were responsible,” Matovic said.
Many of those infected had returned to the five communities from the British city of Sheffield, public health officers said.
Slovakia has reported 1,373 cases of the coronavirus and 17 deaths as of Saturday.
The country started lifting some of its anti-coronavirus measures earlier this week, easing some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in Europe.
But Matovic warned that the epidemic was not over yet.
“I would like (all) people to remain as vigilant as here in Bystrany,” he said.
Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Ros Russell