Last week, Berlin nightlife was cancelled – again. By decree of the Berlin Senat, Saturday marked the first night of a general Ausgangssperre, or curfew, from 11pm to 6pm. In this time, all businesses have to close, including bars, restaurants and Spätis. Even outside, groups are limited to five people or two households. And indoor private parties need to stay below 10 people (down from 25).
And there is good reason for new restrictions. Neukölln, where I live, has 171 daily reported cases per 100,000 residents. My friends in New York or my family in Texas used to comment how well things were going in Germany. How things have changed! At the moment, Neukölln appears to be as bad as any place in the United States (if I’m reading the numbers right, that is — this stuff is confusing.)
But is this nighttime curfew the right measure? Berlin’s health senator, Dilek Kalayci (SPD), claims that the virus is being spread primarily by young people at parties. But there hasn’t been a lot of evidence presented for this — Kalayci has certainly chosen not to present any. Instead she proclaims: “The time of Geselligkeit,” i.e. of conviviality and socialising, “is over.”
One thing that we do know about Covid: Outside transmission, while not impossible, is far less likely than indoors. When millions of people took to the streets to declare “Black Lives Matter” in the United States, lots of people worried about riots and demonstrations becoming super-spreader events. But since these people were generally wearing masks, moving around, and keeping their distance from others, studies have shown that the demonstrations did not lead to viral spread.
In Berlin, we know that people are going to be partying at night — there are about 25,000 cops in the city, but even with ten times that number, you would not be able to stop parties entirely. So we want people to party outside — with masks, in relatively small groups (say 25 or 50), and with lists for contact tracing. A left-wing government in Berlin would provide infrastructure for this kind of low-risk partying.
Our government, however, is using the police to implement health policy. And police are doing what they always do: harassing young people, especially young people of colour. Thanks to the corona measures, the Bullen have an excuse to do just about anything they want.
Last Friday, after declaring the curfew, our “left-wing” government mobilised up to 5,000 police to evict people from Liebig34. Can anyone seriously claim that such a huge police orgy is safer than a small party in a park? You can gather in groups if you want to kick people out of their home at the request of a millionaire realty speculator — but not if you want to see friends
While prohibiting parties, the government has announced few new measures for offices, factories, or other workplaces where hundreds of people spend eight hours per day in close quarters. Ten colleagues can sit together in an office all day — but if they want to hang out together on the weekend, they are suddenly a risk for spreading Covid?
It’s not just workplaces either: Another place the coronavirus spreads easily is in crowded housing. This is one of the reasons that people of colour, in Germany just as much as in the USA, are so much more likely to die of Covid-19 — institutional racism forces people into small apartments without good access to medical care.
There are simple and genuinely left-wing solutions to these problems. For example, people need to get quarantine wages so they can stay home until the latest outbreak is under control. Essential workers who cannot stay home need bonuses for the risks, as well as a drastic reduction in working hours, while getting adequate PPE.
A left-wing government in Berlin could provide spacious and well-ventilated housing to everyone. There are, after all, plenty of empty apartments that some rich person only bought as an investment and / or holiday home. There is no shortage of hotels that are largely standing empty anyway. They just need to be opened up for people who need them.
But policies like these would gum up the gears of capital accumulation. They would require making the rich pay for the crisis. Our government, unfortunately, is not that left wing. It has been several decades, at least, since the SPD, the Greens, and Die LINKE could be described as left-wing parties. So the government doesn’t take the necessary measures — and instead, young people are offered up as scapegoats. “What are you going to do? Those darn kids are to blame!”
In other words, our left-wing government would rather let the epidemic rage than touch the fortunes of the handful of wealthy people who hold real power in this city.