Berlin imposes mandatory buffers for museums and shopping, but the idea is a flop

Several cities in Germany are introducing a requirement to present a negative anti-Covid test to enter museums, cultural venues, as well as stores, bars, and restaurants. The idea, in Berlin, has been a flop, and is much criticized.

European countries are watching very closely what is happening in Germany, the first country to introduce the experiment of mandatory swabs in order to go to certain facilities such as museums, stores, and hairdressers. On these pages Francesca Della Ventura had already talked about it in reference to the city of Cologne, where already in the last week of March the obligation to present a negative test to enter the museum or library was introduced. The measure now also extends to other cities in Germany, which have introduced mandatory swabbing.

This is the case, for example, in the capital city of Berlin, where the city senate on March 29 issued an ordinance to impose Testpflicht, the test requirement for business, commerce and culture. As far as companies are concerned, the ordinance obliges employers to test employees free of charge (costs must be covered by the company itself) at least twice a week, issuing a certificate if requested by the employee, and with an obligation to keep the results for four weeks. The same obligation is stipulated for self-employed persons who in the course of their profession have contact with clients (in this case the threshold is at least once a week). The ordinance also stipulates that negative tests must be submitted by those who attend meetings with more than five people, customers who intend to go to stores that do retail or markets, and visitors to all cultural institutions in the city. The Berlin State Museums website was immediately updated to account for the news: and unfortunately, as the information page well explains, self-tests do not count; only certificates of negativity issued by facilities authorized to perform the tests count (in fact, at least the rapid antigen test is required).

The ordinance went into effect on March 31, but there has been no shortage of criticism. For culture, these are rules considered rigid: “Why,” wonders Francesca Della Ventura, a scholar who lives and works in Germany, “further damage the local cultural world (the converse can be applied generally) by requiring a negative anticovid test carried out in the twenty-four hours prior to arrival at the museum or library if the conditions of contagion are minimal? Why make the situation in the cultural sector even more complex than it is after months of downtime? Why continue to harm the independent workers in this sector (guides, security personnel, staff dedicated to pedagogical activities?” But the idea, at least in the early stages, nevertheless turned out to be a flop, with the Berliner Zeitung, one of the capital’s leading newspapers, talking about tests that “ruined Berliners’ shopping”: the first day in fact saw empty stores and malls (“there are more salespeople than customers,” the newspaper writes) and strong disorganization, for example due to the fact that from some communications it seemed that there were supposed to be stations at shopping hubs to do the tests, which then did not happen, causing inconvenience. Also, criticism that entry to retail businesses was inexplicably denied even to vaccinated people. Not to mention the many customers who, not knowing the news, were turned away (in fact, mandatory testing was also introduced for stores selling basic necessities).

Then there are criticisms of the high costs of testing, which come mainly from companies, which have to bear significant burdens (it is estimated that for a small business with ten employees the cost of testing employees is around two thousand euros per month): very strong strides in this regard have come from the Berlin Chamber of Commerce. And criticism, of course, for the inconvenience that the mandatory tampon rule entails: the Tagesspiel, for example, reports of citizens complaining that if one urgently needs to go and buy something needed at home, the rigmarole is long and impractical. What’s more, the measure could increase disparities: shopping centers could, for example, equip themselves with medical staff or testing stations at the entrance, but small stores cannot afford this, with the result that they would risk losing customers.

Finally, there are also those who think that the tests themselves serve little purpose. The first city in Germany to introduce the experiment was Tübingen, which made a number of stations available to citizens where they could take the tests: at the end of the wait for quick test results (20-30 minutes) they receive a kind of ticket to be able to go to stores, museums, and restaurants. But, as The Local newspaper reports, it is Chancellor Angela Merkel herself who has said “I don’t know if testing and shopping is the right answer to what is happening”: in fact, in Tübingen, infections have gone up again despite the requirement for tests to do virtually anything.

In Austria, too, people are beginning to think about the introduction of mandatory testing, and the pros and cons are being drawn up in the newspapers. There are, for example, those who believe that the tests are in any case less of a nuisance than mandatory FFP2 masks or lockdowns, and that they could enable all activities to be reopened quickly. Those against, on the other hand, point the finger at the high cost of the operation and the fact that the inconvenience could drive customers away from businesses (as well as pose a serious problem for those who need something urgently and quickly) and visitors away from museums, theaters, and cultural venues. In short, the issue continues to be divisive.

Photo: lAlte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Ph. Credit Manfred Brückels

Berlin imposes mandatory buffers for museums and shopping, but the idea is a flop
Berlin imposes mandatory buffers for museums and shopping, but the idea is a flop

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