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Polish healthcare workers in Germany face Easter away from families amid corona crisis

Many Polish healthcare workers in Germany's border regions have had to make a tough decision: return to their families or stay on the front lines to help.

Polish healthcare workers in Germany face Easter away from families amid corona crisis
A sign advises of visiting restrictions due to the coronavirus at Magdeburg University Hospital. Photo: DPA

For the first time in his life, Andrzej Zebrowski will not celebrate Easter with his family.

Instead, the Polish surgeon will spend the holiday this year in the German hospital where he works to help his colleagues cope with the coronavirus crisis.

READ ALSO: 'We're in panic': Travellers stranded for days after Polish-German border closes

Like many others, Zebrowski found himself faced with a heartbreaking dilemma when the Polish government announced on March 27th that anyone entering the country would be placed in mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Return to safety and comfort in Poland, or staff the medical front line in Germany? It was a tough decision, and even tougher to tell his family.

According to local media, 300,000 Poles provide healthcare in Europe's biggest economy — some as doctors and nurses in hospitals, others as carers for the elderly.

“Our main task as doctors is to take care of patients professionally… I could not let my staff down at this crucial moment,” said Zebrowski, who works in Prenzlau, 30 kilometres from the border.

Zebrowski had been making the 50-minute journey every day from his home in Szczecin.

“Of course being separated from my family is not easy, but my wife and seven-year-old son understand and accept my decision,” he said. “It is an exceptional situation.”

Financial incentives

Polish healthcare staff account for a fraction of the 69,000 workers who commute across the border every day. But without them, German hospitals would have a problem on their hands.

In some hospitals near the border, Poles comprise more than 30 percent of the workforce, according to Frank Ullrich Schulz, president of the regional medical association in the German state of Brandenburg.

To encourage Polish commuters to stay in Germany, some border regions are offering 40 to 65 euros a day to pay for meals and hotel rooms.

At the Prenzlau hospital, around half of the staff are Polish, including 22 doctors. The hospital has no COVID-19 patients yet, but intensive care beds are ready and waiting.

“Without them, many urgently needed procedures and operations could not be
carried out,” said hospital director Marita Schönemann.

Germany appears to be faring better than many neighbours against COVID-19.
The country has been lauded for its comprehensive approach to testing and as
of Thursday, the official death count was just over 2,100.

Returning to family

“Of our 40 intensive care beds, only three are currently occupied. But we are bracing for a wave,” said Ulrich Gnauk, director of the Asklepios hospital in border-town Schwedt, where half of the 40 Polish staff members have decided to stay.

Without them, the hospital would have had to close, said Gauk, who believes Europe has “failed” by not imposing blanket rules.

Germany will introduce a 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering from
April 10th, with an exception for cross-border commuters.

Many healthcare workers have nonetheless decided to return to their families.

“I didn't want to force my entire family into quarantine over Easter because of me,” said Jacek Witkowski, a doctor in the intensive care unit at Magdeburg University Hospital.

At the end of March, with Poland much less affected by the coronavirus than
Germany, he decided to return to Szczecin.

The temporary employment agency that had placed him in the hospital refused
to pay him during his 14 days of absence, forcing him to stop working for them.

“I'm disappointed… but I'm going to rest for a few days before looking
for a job, probably in Poland,” he said.

By David Courbet

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CULTURE

‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.

READ ALSO: 

Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music

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