Mobile clinics in Paris were providing help to the city's homeless, who are one of the most vulnerable groups in the coronavirus pandemic given their precarious healthcare situation and the isolation measures implemented by the French government.
Julien Aron, a doctor with one of these clinics rolled out by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this week, told Efe news that the service tends to "many marginalized patients, without documents or access to medical attention". Aron says 40 or 50 people who turned up to a clinic set up in the Paris neighbourhood of Barbes had underlying health conditions such as skin diseases and infections.
"There are patients who have chronic illnesses like asthma, lung problems or diabetes who have not been receiving treatment. This makes them more vulnerable to a virus like COVID-19." Homeless people are given the same hygiene advice as everyone else, but it can often be harder for them to stick to the guidelines. "To wash your hands, you must have access to soap and water."
Dozen people forming a line outside the clinic
A line of about a dozen people forms outside the clinic. Patients first carry out a survey with the nurse, who decides whether they go in for further testing.
The team sends suspected COVID-19 samples for lab testing, a process carried out for 40 patients who came to the clinic on Thursday, according to MSF medical coordinator, Emilie Fourrey. Fourrey says one of the main issues was that the tests take hours to show conclusive results, during which time many of the patients have returned to the street.
"They don't have anywhere to go and sleep, which means they can't isolate themselves. Some emergency accommodation has been set up, but not everyone can get a space." According to the latest data from Paris officials, there were 3,500 homeless people in the French capital last year, although the NGO said there could be as many as 5,000.
On Friday, the French government's legal advice body, the Council of State, rejected an appeal demanding that decent housing be granted to the homeless for the duration of the crisis as well as protective gear for those working with the vulnerable community. The Council said the government had already taken measures such as expanding the number of places in emergency shelters, which went from 157,000 to 170,000 by the end of last month.
Additionally, the government had made 7,600 hotel rooms available. The Housing Ministry also opened 59 specialized homeless shelters for those who have the virus but do not require hospitalization. France has so far registered 65,202 coronavirus cases, with 6,520 deaths.