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Germany is protecting the economy, not the people

Angela Merkel's speech to the nation called for "social distance", but health protection in the workplace is neglected

by Yaak Pabst

Signs in the Munich airport now warn travelers about the new coronavirus. Data from doctors charting contacts between coworkers in Germany who became ill with the virus suggest some people may spread it before they develop symptoms. SVEN HOPPE/PICTURE-ALLIANCE/DPA/AP IMAGES

Things are getting worse in Berlin. The government is so slow that it cannot control the spread of the pandemic here. Just one shopping in a supermarket is enough to understand that the Merkel government is doing a bad job. The employees are in permanent contact with many people. And yet: No protective masks, no hand disinfectants, no protective suits or gloves... Nothing! The policy of the German government is highly contradictory. While on the one hand »maximum social distance« is demanded (Merkel) and public life is severely restricted: cafés, restaurants, universities, schools, playgrounds, shops, cinemas and daycare centres are closed – a debate about a strict curfew is coming. On the other hand, health protection for employees is neglected. Millions of people still have to go to work and are thus exposed to unhealthy working conditions. It is a contradiction to demand »social distance« on the one hand and to allow »social contact« in industrial companies or in many service sectors on the other. It would also be consistent to reduce industrial production and service companies, which are not urgently needed, and to make jobs »corona-safe«. Merkel and her government first underestimated the dynamics of the corona pandemic (as many government does) and now they are afraid. The federal government is doing almost everything to protect the economy and almost nothing to really protect the people. »It is serious. Take it seriously too,« Merkel said in a television speech to the nation. Merkel was probably also talking to herself.

Merkel's words of thanks to the nursing staff and doctors are untrue, in view of the decades of ruined savings in the health system by her government. Merkel's appeal to the individual, on the other hand, fits in well with the dogma of neoliberalism. But shifting the responsibility for containing the pandemic onto the individual is wrong. It is a political question, not an individual one. The government would have to create the social conditions so that all people (especially the workers) can learn and practice »social distance«. How could this be done? The government of the Canadian province of Quebec pays 573 Canadian dollars (362 euros) per week to all workers in the province who have to isolate themselves! You fill out the application online and the money will be in your bank account within 48 hours. Why doesn't the German government distribute protective suits, masks and disinfectants free of charge for everyone in risk areas and big cities? Repressive policies such as border closures, restrictions on freedom of travel or curfews are of little help under the current conditions, because they are distracting from the actual more important tasks (massive expansion of health care) while at the same time creating new problems. For example, the closure of the Polish-German border has caused a permanent traffic jam for miles, leaving thousands of truck drivers trapped in nirvana. Nevertheless, the number of infected people in Germany continues to rise. it really doesn't look good.


Yaak Pabst is a political scientist, member of die LINKE and on the editorial board of marx21 magazine.

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