Sicily’s president, Nello Musumeci, ordered all migrant centers on the island closed last weekend, saying it was impossible to prevent the spread of the illness in them. A court blocked the order, but his effort underlined the challenges Italy faces as right-wing politicians seek to rekindle a polarizing debate about immigration in a country hit hard by the pandemic, and now seeing its cases surge.
In the last two weeks, Italy’s seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled, from 476 on Aug. 15 to 1,192 on Friday, according to a New York Times database.
Franco Locatelli, the president of Italy’s Superior Health Council, a government advisory body, said migrants’ role in bringing the virus to Italy was “minimal.”
In the first half of August, around 25 percent of the country’s new infections arrived from abroad, according to Italy’s National Health Institute. Italians who had traveled accounted for more than half, and many other cases were among foreign residents returning to the country. Less than 5 percent were among new immigrants, the Health Ministry said.
About 11,700 migrants have reached Sicily since June, and 3 percent either tested positive upon arrival or during a quarantine period imposed at shelters.
Last weekend, a ship carrying hundreds of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, about 20 of whom had tested positive, was turned away by mayor after mayor in Sicily, before eventually docking in Augusta, in the southeast.
“Outlaw state,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League party and a former interior minister, said on Twitter. “An invasion of illegal migrants, a boom of infections, Sicily is collapsing.”