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Coronavirus case at Mexico border refugee camp raises alarm

An international disaster relief organization reported Tuesday the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among asylum seekers living in a tent encampment at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Global Response Management said that one person in the Matamoros, Tamaulipas camp across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas had tested positive.

“Aggressive isolation and tracing measures have been enacted,” the U.S.-based relief organization said via Twitter.

There are some 2,000 asylum seekers living in tents along the border. The migrants from Central America and other parts of the world have been stranded by the United States’ suspension of asylum hearings due to the pandemic through at least mid-July.

This October 2019 photo shows a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.

This October 2019 photo shows a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

Last week, Andrea Leiner, a spokeswoman for GRM, said they had implemented measures to try to reduce the risk of the virus’ spread, but conceded it was a challenge with confirmed infections cropping up among U.S. and Mexican immigration officials and in residents on both sides of the border.

They had placed tents 3 feet apart, leaving them open for ventilation and having everyone sleep head to toe to curtail the chances of transmission while people sleep.

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Asylum seekers began pooling in border cities like Matamoros under the U.S. policy commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” in which asylum seekers can make their initial request for U.S. asylum, but have to wait in Mexico for the lengthy process to play out.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for hearings in U.S. court since January 2019, when the U.S. introduced its “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy.

There had been concern since the arrival of the pandemic that the crowded tents and lack of proper sanitation could lead to infections in the Matamoros camp.

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GRM started working in the camp last September. The organization provides medical treatment with a team of medical volunteers.

Mexico has reported more than 220,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and more than 27,000 deaths from the disease.

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