These Doctors Are Hitting the Street to Protect Athens' Homeless from Coronavirus

Police are imposing 150-euro fines on people accused of breaking lockdown laws. The homeless have not been exempt.
April 28, 2020, 8:49pm

ATHENS -- Coronavirus lockdowns mean even greater hardships for homeless people, so a group of doctors in Athens are reaching out to the city’s vulnerable homeless population to try to protect them.

Volunteer medics from the Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde) human rights organization have been scouring the streets of the mostly deserted Greek capital, checking in with people, connecting them with medical help if needed, and distributing kits with masks, soap, and a pamphlet explaining the pandemic.

“A lot of them… don’t know or they don’t understand how serious it is,” said Dr. Nikitas Kanakis, chairman of the Greek branch of Doctors of the World.

Greece has been praised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reacted swiftly by imposing a lockdown on March 13, with trips outside the home only permitted for food, medical supplies, and exercise. As of April 28, there had been 2,566 cases in Greece and 138 deaths, some of the lowest figures in the European Union. It’s been relatively easy on Greece’s depleted health system, which has suffered since the country’s financial crisis a decade ago.

But the total shutdown, Kanakis said, has made life even more difficult for those who sleep on the streets. They’re not even exempted from the 150-euro fines police are handing out for breaking lockdown laws.

“These people… cannot find the food that they used to find, even the little social care they had,” Kanakis said. “So that’s why for us it’s more important now to go out because they need to feel that they haven’t been forgotten.”

VICE News followed Dr. Kanakis and a group of volunteers as they handed out protection kits to the homeless.