Coronavirus: Muslim-majority towns in Greece quarantined

North-east Greece is home to a sizable population of Slavik Muslims

epa08318597 Homeless men sleep on benches at the empty central Syntagma square, in Athens, Greece, 24 March 2020. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a ban on public movement on 22 March introducing the strictest measure so far to stem the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic in Greece.  Countries around the world are taking increased measures to stem the widespread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 disease.  EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Greece has locked down a number of Muslim-majority towns and villages after a spate of coronavirus cases and a death in the area.

The population cluster in Xanthi, a border region neighbouring Bulgaria, was quarantined as of Wednesday evening after nine positive tests in the last six days.

The area is home to the Slavik Muslim Pomak community, who mainly live in Bulgaria but also Greece and north-western Turkey.

Ethinos, a small Pomak-dominated town of 2,500, is believed to be at the centre of the local outbreak.

A 72-year-old man from Ethinos died from the virus.

"All residents have been temporarily confined at home. No exceptions are allowed," said civil protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias.

"Ehinos residents will be provided with food and medicine," he added.

Around 110,000 Muslim reside in Greece’s northeast, which also shares a border with Turkey. Many work as migrant industrial workers in Europe.

"I estimate that around 1,000 workers returned from central Europe, Germany, the Netherlands and France. Many were in Turkey for work or study," Xanthi mayor Manolis Tsepelis told Ethnos news portal.

Xanthi is a city in north-east Greece,

"Many of them were carrying the virus without knowing," Mr Tsepelis said.

"These are tightly-knit societies with large families," he added.

There are 22 deaths and 821 officially announced infections from the coronavirus in Greece.

Greece has also seen a surge in the number of migrants trying to enter from neighbouring Turkey, after Ankara opened its western border amid tension with the European Union.

Finance minister Christos Staikouras said on Thursday he expected the Greek economy to contract by between one and three per cent this year due to the impact of the coronavirus.

"Greece's economy had been doing exceptionally well up until February. The changes of the past two months have had a big impact," he said.

The government has imposed a curfew, shut down hotels and halted arrivals from non-EU countries and from Italy and Spain.

Tourism is the Greek economy's main driver and the sector expects hundreds of millions of euros in revenue losses.