Libya’s COVID-19 Outbreak Threatens Italy

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“Please help us! The people are suffering here!” This is the appeal launched by Mansour Khawad, through the Italian newspaper InsideOver, to raise public awareness over the seriousness of the health situation in Libya.

Mansour is a young man who comes from the city of Ghat, in the deep south of the country. He has been infected with COVID-19 and wants to raise awareness of the situation.

Through his social media channels, Khawad has constantly updated friends and acquaintances on his health condition. During a telephone conversation with InsideOver on Tuesday, he said that it has been weeks since he was informed that he tested positive for the virus. “Thank God I’m better now – said Mansour – But everything is missing here. The situation in Libya is catastrophic, there are few means available for our healthcare. The country is by no means ready to manage a pandemic of this size.” The young man reported that he had not received any medical assistance: “After more than 20 days, from the moment I showed the first symptoms in Ghat, nobody checked me.” He concluded by saying “I do not know my health condition.”

With no other way to reach doctors, he turned to Facebook for help to not only find a solution for himself, but also for others. Many of his fellow citizens are helplessly witnessing the death of loved ones at home, without any medical support. “We are now reaching the peak of the epidemic – said Mansour – But the healthcare system is already in a crisis. There are important efforts by the authorities, but they are not enough.” In many parts of the country, a curfew has been imposed but these measures have not stopped the epidemic from spreading.

Dangers to Italy

The virus has spread to all regions of Libya, including Tripoli and Benghazi, he explained. The south of Libya is a desert, from there migrant caravans come from Sub-Saharan Africa and head towards the coast. All migrants pass through Ghat, on their way towards Tripoli, hoping to try and set sail for Italy. The epidemic is widespread in the south, “at this point no one is safe in Libya – said Mansour – Nobody can be said to be safe from COVID-19.” This is also true for migrants as they become infected, asymptomatic, and transmit the virus to others onboard.

From Libya, departures to Italy show no signs of slowing down, but are rather increasing. As testified by the words of Khawad, the situation is catastrophic, and this can have dangerous repercussions on Italy. Libya is the main point of departure for migrants setting off for Europe. The contagion occurs quickly for those on board due to the cramped conditions. They then arrive on the Italian coast, infected. The pandemic, together with the war, is also driving Libyan citizens to embark on the perilous journey to Italy for an escape away from the crisis at home.

WHO raises alarm
In recent days, the World Health Organisation (WHO), raised its alarm on the growth of positive cases: “In the last two weeks, the cases of COVID-19 in Libya have doubled. The healthcare system in the country was severely damaged, and about 50% of the main hospitals are closed,” WHO said in a report. The situation becomes even more difficult, due to the ongoing conflict, making access to basic services more difficult. Healthcare facilities are overflowing with the war-wounded, and electricity is not available most of the day in Tripoli. These factors contribute to exposing the nation to greater health dangers. Positive cases are also increasing due to the repatriation of citizens from neighbouring countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey.