Asylum-seekers arrive on controversial UK barge, as public health experts warn of disease outbreak risk

The controversy over the transfer of asylum-seekers onto a barge moored in southern England deepened on Monday, when public health experts warned of the possible risk of infection in living conditions that campaigners branded as inhumane.

The first group of migrants has arrived on board the boat, named Bibby Stockholm, which is docked in Portland, on the Dorset coast of southwest England, PA Media news agency reported. More people are expected to embark later on Monday.

Plans announced by the UK government in April to house around 500 single adult men on the vessel struck a political nerve in Britain, where the Home Office has ramped up hostile policies towards refugees in a bid to reduce the number of small boat crossings in the face of the European migrant crisis.

Medical practitioners flagged safety concerns over the Bibby Stockholm, after it was called a “death trap” by the UK’s Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on Wednesday.

Prof. Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said respiratory infections were more likely to spread in cramped spaces with narrow corridors and doorways.

“Generally respiratory infections, as we’ve all learnt through the pandemic … are at higher risk in confined settings with poorer ventilation, so the sorts of things we look at is what the ventilation is like,” she told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show on Monday.

The agency will visit the barge to assess the “infection prevention control” once migrants are on board, Harries said, adding: “We know that the accommodation complies with marine standards, which is what has been agreed is correct for that particular accommodation.”



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