Migrant woman with coronavirus gives birth on board a helicopter

ROME (Reuters) - A migrant woman who tested positive to coronavirus has given birth to a baby on board a helicopter as she was flying to Sicily from the small southern Italian island of Lampedusa, the Sicilian regional government said on Tuesday.

The woman was staying at a migrant holding center designed to hold about 100 people, which in recent days has been home to nearly 10 times as many due to a pickup in arrivals.

Since she was positive, health operators decided to transfer her to the Cervello hospital, in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, so that she could give birth in safety. Palermo is a one-hour flight from Lampedusa.

But there was no time. She gave birth on the helicopter as it was flying over the southern coast of Sicily, close to the city of Agrigento, a spokesman for the Sicilian government told Reuters.

The Sicilian and the national government have constantly been at loggerheads in the past weeks over the migrant issue, with Governor Nello Musumeci accusing Rome of not giving him enough help in dealing with the landings from Africa.

After a decline in recent years, those attempting the perilous journey to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy’s shores increased again, despite Rome closing its ports to migrant boats because of the coronavirus.

Some 19,400 have landed so far in 2020, compared to around 5,200 in the same period last year, official data show.

Some 353 people rescued in the Mediterranean will soon arrive in Palermo and be transferred on a ship for quarantine, the Sea Watch charity said on Twitter, provoking the ire of right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini.

“The League will sue the government for aiding and abetting illegal immigration if it allows these people to land,” he wrote on Facebook.

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Lisa Shumaker