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NGO calls for access to fast Covid-19 tests for homeless people

Illustration shows a Corona fast test facility, Thursday 29 October 2020.  (BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER)
10:01 30/10/2020

Aid organisation Doctors of the World has called for homeless people living on the streets or in squats to be given access to fast Covid-19 tests.

Homeless people exist outside of the care system and this means there is no overview of the number of infections among this often 'forgotten group', the organisation says.

The Brussels government has these fast tests, but at the moment, homeless people are not priority recipients; a situation which has led Doctors of the World to call for an immediate reaction from the authorities. One the one hand, the NGO says, the government insists that the most vulnerable people in society must be protected while, on the other, the homeless continue to be forgotten.

Authorities in the capital announced on Wednesday that it had already purchased 100,000 fast tests, but these are primarily for residential care centres and nursing homes and their staff.

The vulnerable on the streets cannot adhere to the Covid-19 health regulations, the NGO says. They cannot stay at home, they cannot abide by the curfew, they have numerous untraceable contacts and they do not have access to protective equipment. Doctors of the World fears that this will only increase the risk of infections and outbreaks.

"The current test strategy for these populations is totally inadequate: if organisations are already able to reach homeless people for a test, it takes days before there is a result,” a statement from Doctors of the World read. “This is an extremely long time for the ordinary Belgian, but for those who are homeless, it makes the test almost useless.”

Nicholas Elles, spokesman for Brussels health minister Alain Maron, responded: “Our test polities have not changed. If there is a suspicion of infection, homeless people can have a PCR test via the usual channels.”

Written by Nick Amies