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Coronavirus: News round-up, 20th Mar 2020


Unions fear exploitation of emergency to attack workers' rights

Trade unionists fear the Coronavirus emergency is being exploited to attack workers' rights. In Bavaria, food shops are now allowed to open until 6pm on Sundays, while federal states have relaxed the Sunday driving ban for lorries, supposedly to prevent food shortages. Hubert Thiermeyer, from the Bavaria branch of Verdi, said the measures would do nothing to increase food security. He told Neues Deutschland that exhaustion and stress would increase the risk of workers being infected. Meanwhile the NGG union, which represents workers in the hospitality and food sectors, said many were being forced to agree to reduced working hours and wages, or unpaid leave. Others have the opposite problem, with panic buying leading to overtime demands for supply chain workers.

533 quarantined in Thuringia refugee reception centre

Over five hundred people in an "initial reception facility" for refugees in Suhl, Thuringia, have been put under quarantine for at least 14 days. One resident tested positive for the coronavirus last Friday, and now all the residents are banned from leaving. The Refugee Council of Thuringia urgently called for people to be moved to decentralized accommodation. It said cramped conditions, where rooms are often shared by several people, were never a good idea, but especially not amid the Corona pandemic. In Thuringia, about 5,500 people are currently living in camps and collective centres, according to the organisation.

Debate over nationwide curfew

More and more media and citizens in Germany are calling for a nationwide curfew, which would force people to stay in their homes to slow the spread of Coronavirus. Some have suggested the army should be deployed to enforce it along with the police, who would be able to stop and issue a fine to those outside without good reason. Die Linke MP Niema Movassat disagrees. In an article in Neues Deutschland, he writes: "The absurd thing about the [proposed] curfew is also that, although it would be forbidden to go for a walk in the park, you have to keep going to work." He said it threatened to set a course that could lead to an authoritarian society. The state of Bavaria and the city of Freiburg, near the French border, have already announced curfews.

Huge 'Defender 2020' military exercise called off

Defender 2020, the massive NATO military exercise in which 20,000 US soldiers were to be deployed to Europe, has been called off because of Coronavirus. Up to 5,500 US soldiers who had already landed in Germany are now being sent home, and ships that had been on their way have been turned round. Peace activists had planned protests against the exericse, not least because it was perceived as laying the ground for a future war with Russia.


Nurse's petition against profit-oriented healthcare gets 100,000 signatures

A petition launched on Tuesday by Charité nurse Ulla Hedemann has received 100,000 signatures. For 20 years, she wrote, hospitals have been subject to the logic of the market. Pressure to save money and make a profit has meant more patients having to be treated with fewer staff in less time. "Now in the Covid 19 crisis this policy is taking a special revenge", the petition states. It calls for more staff and protective clothing, improved hygeine measures including an increase in cleaning staff, and Coronavirus tests for hospital workers.

Army called in to build 1,000-bed Coronavirus clinic in exhibition hall

A specially equipped Coronavirus hospital with up to 1,000 beds is being built at the Berlin Messe exhibition grounds near Westkreuz. German armed forces are helping to construct the facility, which is supposed to be ready in three weeks at the latest. Project manager Albrecht Broemme was quoted in Neues Deutschland as saying that the forecast number of Coronavirus patients suggest the facility will be needed. "We do not want to have to select who can be ventilated and who is unlucky," he said.

Hospitals appeal for medical professionals to come forward

Berlin hospitals have issued a call for people with medical training to come forward and help deal with the imminent surge of Coronavirus patients. Barbara Ogrinz of the Berliner Krankenhausgesellschaft (BKG) said that all possible measures needed to be taken to strengthen staff numbers. Interested parties should send details of their qualifications to relevant hospitals or nursing homes - but only by e-mail, to avoid overloading phone lines.

City's activist scene shuts down, but eviction threats remain

Berlin's protest calendar is looking empty as organisers comply with an official ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. Protests over the soaring cost of housing planned for March 28th have been postponed. Extinction Rebellion has also cancelled actions in Berlin which had been announced for the beginning of May. Fridays for Future is calling for virtual protests online instead of its usual weekly demo. It is not yet clear whether the global climate strike planned for 24th April can take place. The eviction of the Kreuzberg lefty pub "Mutiny" was postponed, but the Syndikat bar in Neukölln is still facing eviction on April 17th and is calling on people to join protests on that date.

Source: Neues Deutschland

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