France: Four Romani community members die of COVID-19, others are in critical condition
The website of the regional edition of the France 3 television channel has reported that in the Gitane community (one of the groups of Romani people living on French territory) in Perpignan, a town in the south, COVID-19 is spreading. Last week four people are said to have died of the virus there, while another 10 are in intensive care, some of whom are in an artificial coma.
"This is awful. We're afraid," Nick Gimenez, a representative of the Gitane community in Perpignan, told the France 3 reporters.
One of the deceased was said to be a 24-year old woman from the quarter of Saint-Jacques who suffers from asthma and obesity, while another was a 45-year-old man, also an asthmatic, from the quarter of Vernet. A third deceased was over 75 years old.
A total of six people have already died of COVID-19 in Perpignan, four from this community. The situation in Perpignan is complicated and the number of infected persons is rising sharply.
The intensive care unit of the hospital in Perpignan is very busy, according to a doctor there. It has also been decided to reorganize the hospital so it will be used exclusively for patients with COVID-19, while others are meant to be transferred to different health care facilities.
The source of infection is likely to have been a pastor from the Evangelical Pentecostal Church, not a local man, who is said to have infected an entire family during mass. From there the virus then spread into two Gitane-inhabited quarters, Saint-Jacques and Vernet.
The Gitane community in Perpignan is one of the biggest communities of settled Romani people in France and its members belong to various groups that are at greater risk of contracting the virus, as many suffer from diabetes. The authorities are urging residents not to leave their homes.
Compliance with that measure, however, is difficult for the Gitane community. "We spend a great deal of time outdoors and we are in constant contact with each other," Gimenez explained to France 3.
"People get it now, though," he told the television reporters. People in the St Jacques and Vernet neighborhoods live in houses that are 15 meters square, in groups of between four and six.
Under those conditions it is not easy to remain indoors. Since last Thursday police have been driving through the streets of Saint-Jacques using a megaphone to urge residents to stay at home there.
Last Friday a crisis center was meant to have been opened close to the Gitane quarter in an old military hospital and two other centers should be opened as soon as possible. On Saturday the Perpignan town hall announced a ban on leaving the house between 8 PM and 6 AM.
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