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The President of Sicily, Nello Musumeci, ordered the closure of all migrant centers on the island last weekend, saying it was impossible to prevent the spread of the disease in them. A court blocked the order, but its efforts have highlighted the challenges Italy faces as right-wing politicians seek to reignite a polarizing debate over immigration in a country hit hard by the pandemic and now seeing its cases increase.

In the past two weeks, Italy’s seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled, from 476 on August 15 to 1,192 on Friday, according to a New York Times database.

Franco Locatelli, chairman of the Italian 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% of the country’s new infections arrived from abroad, according to the Italian National Institute of Health. Italians who had traveled made up more than half and many more cases involved foreign residents returning to the country. Less than 5 percent were among new immigrants, the health ministry said.

Around 11,700 migrants have reached Sicily since June, and 3% have tested positive on arrival or during a period of quarantine imposed in the shelters.

Last weekend, a ship carrying hundreds of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, around 20 of whom had tested positive, was turned back by mayor after mayor of Sicily, before finally docking in Augusta, in the south -is.

“Outlaw state,” Matteo Salvini, leader of the Anti-Immigrant League party and former interior minister, said on Twitter. “An invasion of illegal migrants, a boom in infections, Sicily is collapsing.”


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