About two weeks ago, the negative test as an entrance ticket to shops or to go to the hairdresser and access various other services became mandatory in Berlin. Angela Merkel reacted angrily to the situation in the capital. “I don’t know if testing and shopping, as is the practice in Berlin, is the right reaction,” she said in a television interview, Deutsche Welle reported.
This has not prevented other federal states from following this model, which is now valid in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Hamburg, Saxony, Saarland and Bavaria. A similar strategy is going to apply in Lower Saxony, Saxony Anhaltine and Thuringia, while in North Rhine-Westphalia, districts and cities decide independently whether to try the model of conditioning access to shops by presenting a negative coronavirus test or not.
This sometimes leads to absurd situations. In Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, you can go to the hairdresser untested. In Cologne, 65 kilometers away, you need a negative test result, but you can do a quick test in front of the barber. 30 kilometers away, in Bonn, this is not allowed, as you have to test yourself at an accredited testing center.
The regulation causes not only stores but also hairdressers a substantial decrease in revenue.
“Salon owners are desperate to tell us that due to mandatory testing, customers are canceling their appointments,” said Hjalmar Stemmann, director of the Hamburg branch of the Craftsmen’s Association, in an interview.
“They’d better shut us down and put us in Kurzarbeit,” says a hairdresser. (Kurzarbeit, a program first introduced during the 2009 financial crisis, provides that employers have the opportunity to reduce employees’ working hours from the daily, weekly or monthly duration provided for in the individual employment contract. Companies can apply for state aid to cover costs arising from the retention of employees working shorter hours).
Her barber shop is located on a main shopping street in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. Next door, in the home accessories store, porcelain and other small items, the atmosphere is just as gloomy. “We live off customers who come into stores and buy things spontaneously,” says one employee.
“In our country, the test thing doesn’t work.” According to a recent study by the German Retail Association (HDE), stores that are allowed to remain open only to customers who tested negative for the coroonavirus test saw a 62% drop in sales than in the pre-crisis period. “The government is getting involved in the wrong places”, criticizes the general director of HDE, Stefan Genth.
The question is why doesn’t the test model work? What is so difficult about taking a quick test, the result of which is available in 15 minutes? In Germany, every citizen is entitled to at least one free test per week. There is already a large network of test centers in Berlin. In some of the approximately 300 centers, people can perform the test without prior appointment, while in others the appointment is absolutely necessary.
Often, the centers simply do not meet the demands, especially on Saturday mornings, when people can spend more time shopping. The waiting time for the test can even reach an hour, which you spend outside, in the cold, wind and rain. It is a discouraging situation for people who rightly miss shopping.
Larger chain stores have the ability to install on-site testing facilities. The Hornbach store, which already does this in North Rhine-Westphalia, wants to equip many of the 96 subsidiaries nationwide with test centers. “In recent days, municipalities and local aid organizations have been approached to make available some of the large parking spaces for test centers,” said company spokesman Florian Preuss. Instead, retailers with less central stores need to find other solutions.
For example, a furniture store in Berlin hired medical staff for two branches in the city. Customers who want to take advantage of the offer must pay 20 euros, but the value of the test being returned to them in the form of a voucher that they can use in that store. This effort is less profitable for small shops, whose owners have voluntarily decided to close them after the mandatory testing rule came into force. In a shopping center located on one of Berlin’s shopping arteries, every second store was closed for this reason.