Cramped living conditions, language barriers, sometimes an aversion to rules that are perceived as arbitrary – there are reasons why Corona hits some residential areas harder than others. Politicians are now reacting.
“Cologne-Chorweiler incidence 500, Cologne-Hahnwald incidence 0”, the problem can be broken down into this contrast between a social hotspot and a Cologne villa district: Obviously, not all people in Germany can protect themselves equally well against corona. The concise comparison comes from Armin Laschet, who used it last week to explain why the North Rhine-Westphalian state government has now introduced its own ranking list in addition to the vaccination prioritization prescribed by the federal government – a social one.
“Wherever people live in cramped living conditions, the risk of being infected is greater than with someone who lives in a spacious single-family house,” said the North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister. That is why vaccination must be given “where people live closer together than elsewhere”.
Last Monday in Cologne-Chorweiler, for example, a fire brigade’s vaccination mobile was parked on Pariser Platz, with high-rise buildings in the background and a long line of people in front of the car. The medical team had over 500 vaccination doses on board, they were nowhere near enough for everyone who was interested.
“That got off to a very good start,” said the Cologne social psychologist Musa Deli in an interview with ntv.de after the start of the focus vaccination campaign. The head of the health center for migrants in Cologne has long been advocating not to hide the higher numbers of infected people among people with a migration background. Not even when it comes to avoiding right-wing polemics. “It doesn’t get us any further if we don’t talk about it,” he says, himself the child of a Turkish immigrant who worked in car production for decades. “We need the data and studies to see where the problems are.”
“This is social medicine, first semester”
Cologne is not alone in its desire to openly address deficits. One day after the start of the vaccination vehicle in Chorweiler, the Berlin Senate responded by announcing that it wanted to run a similar campaign in the capital. From next week, said the governing mayor Michael Müller, 10,000 vaccine doses will be delivered to district centers in socially deprived areas or quarters in difficult living situations.
The initiative of the state government met with divided echoes on site. Patrick Larscheid, medical officer from the Reinickendorf district of Berlin, said that the campaign missed the actual problem in these districts: There were people who did not want to be vaccinated because they had crude ideas.
For a long time now, Berlin medical officers have been pleading in vain that politicians should also recognize the extent to which social status has an influence on health. Nicolai Savaskan, head of the Neukölln health department, is downright annoyed “when some politicians are astonished that being affected by Covid-19 has something to do with the social factor”.
Age, gender, income status and educational status are the variables that determine a person’s health. And statistically speaking, the life of the poor ends nine years earlier than that of the wealthy. “This is social medicine, first semester.”
From the perspective of his Cologne colleague Deli, one of the main causes of high incidences is in hotspot areas and among people with a migration background in the living conditions: Many work in manufacturing or sit at a till, clean offices, deliver in parcel services – moderately to poorly paid jobs where home office is out of the question. Most depend on public transport, and often three generations live under one roof and in a confined space – another source of contagion.
“We have to use the channels that people use”
The expert sees a difficult situation especially for Muslim young people: “Before Corona, they had the opportunity to live out their freedom in cafés and bars, sometimes drinking alcohol, sometimes flirting, without a warning from their parents. The need that leads has been suppressed for a year to disobedience to the rules. “
In order to follow the rules, you would first have to understand them. Large barriers at exactly this point also come to light in the Berlin district of Neukölln, with a 45 percent migration rate. Last year, the health department discovered a major outbreak in a Romanian community. “There we saw: These are relatively closed circles where the information does not even arrive. It was only in the context of the outbreak that we were able to enlighten people and build trust in state institutions, and they understood where the risk of infection lurked,” explains Head of Department Savaskan . His conclusion from Neukölln’s experience with the pandemic: “The social groups with people of different origins have one thing in common: Compared to the majority society, we use them in the media and through the campaigns much worse or not at all.”
The district has been trying to counteract this ever since. He applied for funds from the State of Berlin, which were promptly not approved. But the health workers had the district mayor on their side: So they rearranged from other pots. “The aspect of education and communication with citizens is completely underexposed,” complains Savaskan. He has trained social workers, youth welfare workers and neighborhood managers so that they can educate people about Corona. He has assigned seven employees to his intercultural awareness team. “A piece of cake with 330,000 inhabitants”, but better than nothing, the head of the office sees it. A quarter of his energy – “manpower as well as budget” – he is currently investing in health education.
Musa Deli in Cologne also misses the authorities’ feeling for how difficult it is to find out about corona risks if you do not speak the German language. Billboards at bus stops convey the bans, “but not their usefulness,” says Deli. “Why can’t the public service broadcaster shoot a few info videos – in Arabic, Turkish and other languages - and put them in the media library?” His mother, 70 years old, uses Facebook and Instagram. But there is no corona information on these channels. “We have to use the channels that people use. The corona deniers can do that too.”
At the latest when the enlightened and those willing to vaccinate among the Cologne-Chorweiler residents and in the Berlin districts have been vaccinated, it will be indispensable for the state governments to invest more money and energy in prevention and education in socially weak milieus – also in other metropolitan areas in Germany. Above all, Nicolai Savaskan hopes “that the public will not suddenly become the guilty party, the driver of the pandemic, from the victims whose education nobody cared about.” In this point, the Cologne and future Berlin vaccination vehicles are important symbols: Instead of accusations and pressure, they bring valuable vaccine.