Lord Alton is urging the British government to intervene to help thousands of aid workers at risk in Haiti. As rumours about the Coronavirus spread in the Caribbean nation, foreigners are being threatened by people who believe they are responsible for bringing the virus to the island. However, Haitian authorities have sealed the borders, making it impossible for humanitarian staff and other ex-pats to be evacuated.
"There are, evidently, quite a few British NGO staff among the thousands of stranded humanitarian workers in Haiti," Lord Alton wrote to the Foreign Office on Sunday. "They are facing increasingly threatening behaviour from some local people who are terrified due to misinformation about COVID-19."
Lord Alton is urging the Foreign Office to urgently press the Haitian authorities to open their airspace and borders to charter flights. In addition, campaigners are asking the Vatican to use its influence on the Haitian authorities.
"We love our work and have been in Haiti since 2006," says Jane Drichta, executive director of Midwives for Haiti, a healthcare NGO with a British citizen stranded in the country. "But now it is time to leave so that we don't become a burden to the Haitian healthcare system. If we become ill, it could divert already scarce resources away from the Haitian people."
The first two known cases of COVID-19 were brought to Haiti by a Belgian volunteering at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, and a Haitian returning from Paris.
The Haitian authorities waited until Friday March 20th before announcing a curfew, closing schools and sealing borders. There is concern that the Western Hemisphere's poorest country may be ill-equipped to tackle the pandemic. An estimated two thirds of Haiti's ten million population live without access to adequate sanitation. The country has only 100 ICU beds available, and a doctor interviewed by Al Jazeera on March 21st said his clinic had not yet heard from the Ministry of Health.
It is unsurprising that some Haitians are suspicious of foreigner aid workers. In 2010, UN peacekeeping troops brought cholera to the island; the epidemic killed almost 10,000 Haitians.
An aid worker told ICN: "The whole country is about to erupt into craziness."
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