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Migrant rescue operations continue in the Mediterranean despite COVID-19 pandemic | #TheCube

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By Alexander Morgan
Migrant rescue operations continue in the Mediterranean despite COVID-19 pandemic | #TheCube
Copyright  Flavio Gasperini / SOS MEDITERRANEE

Fifty-one migrants have been rescued off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, after their wooden boat was found adrift and in distress at midday on Thursday.

The NGO vessel Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee, say 50 men and one pregnant woman were among those rescued.

Search and rescue patrols in the Mediterranean Sea recommenced this month after a temporary suspension, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vessels have been forced to introduce radical changes in a bid to contain the virus among those rescued at sea.

"We need to suspect that potentially anyone boarding the ship could be bearing COVID-19," Frédéric Penard, the Director of Operations for SOS Mediterranee, told Euronews.

"It means that areas on the ship have been divided to limit the mixing of people, which is quite a challenge on a 70-metre-long ship."

Penard added that protective equipment was also being used extensively onboard the Ocean Viking, by both crew and those rescued.

"All will all be monitored all through the time they will remain on board," he told Euronews.

On June 17, a further 211 people were rescued in the Mediterranean by the German NGO ship Sea-Watch 3, according to their social media channels.

Twenty-eight later tested positive for COVID-19 following their transfer to another vessel, according to Sicilian President Nello Musumeci.

Those who tested positive are currently being held at Porto Empedocle in Lampedusa.

Euronews correspondent Giorgia Orlandi witnessed one of the Sea-Watch crew coming ashore at Porto Empedocle to be tested for the virus on Thursday.

Nello Musumeci said on Facebook that Sicily had "stubbornly demanded" a solution from the Italian government on April 12 to prevent outbreaks developing on the island's territory.

Both SOS Mediterranee and Sea-Watch insist they are following strict social distancing and quarantine measures.

"We have a medical team on board, with a doctor, two nurses, and a midwife. Most of them are already trained actually, they've been taking care of Covid-19 patients onshore before embarking," Frédéric Penard told Euronews.

"The challenge we had firstly was not to have COVID-19 onboard through the crew. So we put the 33 members under quarantine, to guarantee the ship wasn't carrying Covid-19 when she set sail from Marseille.

"Then the process onboard... we monitor temperatures and make sure people isolate one from another. Physical distancing is complicated on a small ship... so we compensate that by the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the capacity to isolate any symptomatic cases."

Fairer conditions in the summer lead to a sharp increase in the number of people attempting to make the perilous crossing from north Africa to southern Europe.

Charities warn the pandemic has not dissuaded people from attempting to make the journey, and have called on EU countries to formulate a joint response.

Click on the player above to watch Alex Morgan's report in The Cube.