Aid workers warn on COVID-19 in camps for Mozambique cyclone victims

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Crowded centres for people left destitute by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique create the perfect conditions for COVID-19 to spread, with some living at least 10 to a tent with no access to water, soap or masks, an international aid group said on Tuesday.

Cyclone Eloise, which made landfall in Mozambique in the early hours of Saturday, weakened into a tropical storm as it moved inland to Zimbabwe, South Africa, eSwtatini - formerly Swaziland - and Botswana.

The death toll across the region rose to 14 on Tuesday after South Africa reported one more death. Crops, homes and infrastructure have also been destroyed, and thousands displaced in Mozambique in particular, in an area still recovering from Cyclone Idai in March 2019.

Some 93,418 people were already displaced in four provinces affected by Idai, which killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, before Eloise struck. In the port city of Beira alone, 8,700 people are living in 16 temporary shelters after their homes were destroyed by the cyclone.

"Each tent I saw had at least 10 people packed into it and families are lacking access to safe water and essential items like soap and face masks," said Marcia Penicela, project manager at ActionAid Mozambique following a visit to sites.

She said ActionAid was concerned that COVID-19 would spread rapidly in the overcrowded centres, and that urgent needs included a variety of basics from food and water to shelter.

Espinola Caribe, head of the World Food Programme's Beira sub-office, also said COVID-19 was a concern, but people had to be moved out of danger.

"This was not a planned evacuation... this was running for your life," he said.

The WFP was now due to start helping the government with supplying food to the accommodation centres.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Angus MacSwan)

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