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No money, no water, no food: Covid-19 lockdown in a Paris Roma slum

A shanty town in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, on April 14, 2020.
A shanty town in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, on April 14, 2020. © AFP / FRANCE 24

France has been placed in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19. But the cramped and squalid conditions in the country's hundreds of slums, where many of France's Roma population live, make social distancing and good hygiene nearly impossible. Aid agencies are now warning of a potential health disaster.

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In a shanty town in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, nearly half of the approximately 200 inhabitants have gone, choosing to move elsewhere when the pandemic began to take hold in France.

But those who remain face limited access to basic utilities, such as running water and healthcare.

“We are facing a double health crisis in the slums because when coronavirus arrives people will have big problems getting access to healthcare, and also they lack the basics like access to water, to toilets, in many of the shanty towns, it's very tough for them,” Adeline Grippon of Médecins du Monde, one of the aid agencies working in the slum, told AFP.

“What's more, they live crammed into small shacks, so they can't confine themselves and isolate people who could infect them.”

So far, few Covid-19 cases have been recorded in France’s shanty towns. But aid agencies warn that could soon change.

"In many places we work, there is usually an epidemic lag, meaning isolated sites like this one begin to have the first case later than the rest of the society in which they are located,” said Thierry Benlahsen, director of Solidarités International.

“And by the time the virus reaches these sites – in a few days, a few weeks – the situation deteriorates very, very quickly.”

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