Slovakia: COVID-19 testing begins in Romani settlements, those who test positive will be locally quarantined
Tests for COVID-19 infection began yesterday in Romani settlements in Slovakia. Military physicians began taking those first samples in the east of the country in the settlement of Jarovnice.
TV Markíza reported that everything is proceeding without any disruptions or problems. Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities Andrea Bučková also provided more information about how the Central Crisis Team will proceed should it find positive cases in marginalized Romani communities.
"As part of the security measures, the people whose COVID-19 tests are positive will be placed into individual quarantine. That will be arranged by the local government, directly in the municipalities affected. We want to avoid repressive measures such as closing entire Romani settlements or parts of them in temporary quarantine," the Plenipotentiary told Romea.cz.
"There has never been such a strong will to cooperate in the entire history of Slovakia as there is today. My participation is the guarantee that they are deploying absolutely brilliant people, a team of experts who are unafraid to aid others using all available means. We are coming to you in the east. We're in this together," the Plenipotentiary posted yesterday to Facebook.
Testing in Jarovnice
The testing in Jarovnice is underway at the football pitch and Romani residents are going there two at a time. "They are disciplined, the entire course of the testing is being coordinated by field workers. There are also soldiers supervising order on the scene," TV Markíza reported.
According to a Government study from last year, there are more than 6 000 Romani residents of the municipality. It is, therefore, the locality with the highest concentration of the Romani population in the country of five million; according to the study, the Romani population numbers more than 400 000.
Quite a few of those people live in different kinds of huts, in conditions that make it inconvenient or impossible to maintain adequate personal hygiene, without potable water or access to the publicly-administered sewerage system. "On average we should take 50 samples per team. They are drawn under sterile conditions, put into refrigeration and sent to the laboratory. The Army wants to aid civilian groups," military paramedic Marek Demčák told journalists in Jarovnice.
The Army has created four teams overall for the project. The procedure for taking samples is not complicated.
Inhabitants of the municipalities designated for testing in collaboration with local officials first must identify themselves, then blow their noses and cough out any mucus in their throats, and then disinfect their hands. After that, medical staff wearing protective coats and goggles take swabs from the nose and throat.
"The inhabitants are all willing to participate. We were a bit afraid that they would not be, but the cooperation is up to par. I believe it will continue to be in the days to come," Demčák said.
A local resident who gave his name as Slavomír confirmed in front of journalists what Demčák said, calling the tests necessary and urging Romani people to allow themselves to be tested. Ahead of the event being launched, local authorities had discussed it with local governments and NGOs.
The program for testing the Romani population was welcomed by the Mayor of Jarovnice, Florián Giňa. "I want to ask and call on my fellow mayors to support their people. There is nothing about this that should cause any concern. From this testing we will know whether they are infected or not, so that the majority society will not develop the belief that Romani people have brought something here," he said.
While the inhabitants of Jarovnice were arriving to give their samples, a military helicopter was flying above the municipality. According to the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Slovakia, Daniel Zmeko, the helicopter was not a demonstration of force, but a component of the planned event so that samples or anything else necessary could be transported quickly.
Zmeko said taking the samples from the inhabitants of the first 33 municipalities should be completed during next week. In addition to Zmeko, Bučková and MEP Peter Pollák, who is from the governing OLaNO movement, also visited Jarovnice.
All officials emphasized the necessity of testing the inhabitants of localities where hygienic standards are sub-par. The village of Jarovnice experienced as many as 50 deaths in 1998 during a destructive flood, and some inhabitants still live in different kinds of huts there.
Testing is necessary, PM says
Slovakia's Crisis Team has identified 1 044 excluded localities in which more than a quarter of a million people currently live as being risky from the standpoint of the eventual spread of COVID-19, and the authorities have estimated that 1 400 Romani people have recently returned to Slovakia from abroad, more than 200 of whom have symptoms of respiratory disease. Slovak PM Igor Matovič, the chair of OLaNO, said earlier this week that testing excluded Roma is unavoidable.
He said that due to substandard options for maintaining personal hygiene in the settlements, one infected person could spread COVID-19 to as many as 20 other people. According to the PM, that means excluded Roma are at greater risk of infection than the majority population is.
Deploying soldiers to take samples in Romani villages was justified by the PM saying he did not want to burden regular hospital paramedics with the job. The Army of Slovakia had already allocated 400 members to provide aid at border crossings and in the hospitals during the pandemic.
Military helicopters have also been deployed to distribute medical supplies to hospitals around Slovakia. The Defense Ministry has begun the training of 150 more orderlies for deployment to hospitals.
Former Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Roma believes this is a show of force
Not everybody agrees with how the testing in Romani settlements is being performed. According to Klára Orgovánová, a former Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Roma, it would have been better for the testing to be performed by regional public health authorities.
"The helicopter, all this staff... I believe this is a kind of demonstration of force. This confirms the stigmatization that Romani communities are subjected to," Orgovánová said in an interview for TV Markíza.
Similar concerns were expressed several days ago by former Plenipotentiary Ábel Ravasz, who was recently removed and replaced by Bučková. In his view, the steps the Government is taking in association with limiting the spread of COVID-19 among excluded Romani people are highly risky.
"Simultaneously, for a second week in a row, the solutions proposed by experts and people from the field are being ignored. If the communication and negotiation will continue to take place in this style, then it will spark fear, it will threaten coexistence, and Romani people will be stigmatized even more. I believe we can cope with this situation together and that the next measures adopted will be expert and humane, not populist," Ravasz said.
Testing for COVID-19 was launched by the Government in the 33 chosen municipalities where most Romani people live and will take place until 9 April. On 10 April the findings should be known.
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