Havelland hotspot in Brandenburg: How the fight against corona in rural areas reaches its limits – Berlin


When the talk turns to Berlin, the shop assistant’s expression darkens in the small bakery. “The Berliners should stay where they are,” says the woman in the white apron and pushes a gray strand from her forehead. There was already enough hustle and bustle in the summer.

Mobile homes, campers, cyclists – they were all in the western Havelland this year, far from the big cities, just a stone’s throw from the Elbe and the Saxony-Anhalt border. “The whole republic was here,” affirmed her younger colleague. Now everything is back to normal in Rhinow. November. Quiet.

There is also Corona in Rhinow, a good hour’s drive west of Berlin. How many cases exactly is unclear. The health department only publishes numbers for the entire district – and that is large. The incidence per 100,000 inhabitants fluctuated between 60 and 70 for weeks, and has been at 160 for a few days. The “lockdown light” has also been in effect in Havelland since November 2nd.

But how does it feel when there is no cinema, no theater, no museum and no pub anyway? How do you think about the measures from Berlin and Potsdam?

Not even 2000 people live here, but Rhinow is the largest city within a radius of 20 kilometers, with two supermarkets, a butcher, a primary school and two bakeries. How is the pandemic making itself felt in the countryside?

No cinema, no pub, no theater. Nevertheless, Rhinow is the largest city within a radius of 20 kilometers.

“I don’t feel anything from the lockdown,” says Karin Voigt. She has been running her hairdressing salon on Durchfahrtstrasse for 40 years. Even before Corona, you only got an appointment with her after registering, now this is an order. Since the bakery only offers take-away coffee, the bistro has locked its tables and the sports clubs have had to shut down, their salon has been the last place in Rhinow where gossip and rumors are exchanged. What does she hear from her customers? “Most of them accept the government’s policy,” says Voigt. If you don’t wear a mask in her shop, you have to cut your own hair.

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But some skepticism remains. She doesn’t know anyone with Corona, and customers from her salon don’t know anything about infected people. Like Voigt, everyone in Rhinow seems to feel the same with whom one speaks. In a place where everyone knows everyone, nobody seems to know anyone with corona.

The elderly suffer from isolation

Voigt is therefore less concerned about the virus than about the consequences. She thinks particularly of the elderly, of whom there are an above-average number in Havelland. “Most of my older customers suffer from loneliness and isolation.” On the other hand, she hardly feels the restrictions even in her private life. Yesterday she sat by the fire bowl with friends until late at night – at a distance, of course. Otherwise it’s quiet. November in the country, she says, and shrugs her shoulders.

You have to look carefully to find the Corona symbols in Rhinow. In front of the butcher shop, a few people are queuing in the cold, an old mouth and nose cover is lying in the leaves on the sidewalk, a notice informs about the canceled Martin’s parade, at the few shops customers are asked to keep their distance and wear a mask.

Look in the past. There used to be more shops in Rhinow.Photo: Felix Hackenbruch

“But not everyone does it,” says the bakery saleswoman. Some customers would notoriously refuse, having often had exhausting discussions. Without success. After all, the number of mask refusers is decreasing. She herself believes in the virus and its dangers, and has no problem with the restrictions. Then you just stay at home. “In Berlin, you think you have to go to a bar or theater every evening. You can do without it, ”she says, leaning against the counter.

Berlin commuters are avoided

In front of her Christmas stollen, cake, half sandwiches and a plexiglass pane. You protect yourself, meet less acquaintances. “You always look at how big the family is and where the person works.” If someone commutes to Berlin, they won’t meet them.

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Mike Lehsnau commutes from Berlin to the district every day – to fight the pandemic in Havelland. As the medical director at the Havellandklinik in Nauen, he is responsible for ensuring that enough beds and staff are kept free for the Covid patients during the pandemic. Material has to be obtained constantly – and new regulations of the Robert Koch Institute have to be implemented in the clinic. His days have therefore become long. He drives to work at 5 a.m., and usually stays until 9 p.m. “The situation is quite tense,” says the doctor, but it is still “manageable.” The most serious Covid cases in the district are in Nauen. At the moment 23, of which four are ventilated. Ascending trend. But there is still space on the strictly isolated Covid ward, where 30 patients can be treated and six more can be ventilated.

A Berliner on the Havelland Corona front: Mike Lehsnau, Medical Director of the Havellandklinik in Nauen.Photo: promo

Lehsnau is not really worried about capacity. In an emergency, patients can be transferred to other hospitals in Brandenburg. “Our biggest problem is the nursing staff,” he says. Covid patients need more intensive care, in addition to the fact that the burden on his employees is enormous. You sweat a lot in protective clothing, the pressure is high, 20 employees have so far infected themselves.

The pandemic could ruin country clinics

In addition, the pandemic is costing the hospital an enormous amount of money. The clinic would have to spend 120,000 euros per month just for swabs by employees and patients, of which the health insurers only pay a fraction. Particularly expensive for the Havelland Clinic: the locked beds. Predictable operations are being postponed, the hospital cannot earn money like this, especially since the federal government has not made any compensation payments since October. “All hospitals will run into deficits because of the reduction in elective measures,” says Lehsnau and predicts that rural hospitals could close after the pandemic.

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The situation is tense not only in the hospitals, but also in the health department in Havelland. And that although the four positions have been doubled and 20 soldiers from the Bundeswehr are helping out. Others are requested because there are significant delays in the transmission of the findings. “Fighting a pandemic is not part of the core business of a district administration,” says Wolfgang Gall, head of social affairs in the district and responsible for the health department. He observes the ongoing crisis with concern, some of his employees have become chronically ill under the continuing pressure – and with African swine fever, the next epidemic is already approaching the district borders.

Crisis manager. Wolfgang Gall leads an overwhelmed health department.Photo: promo

What Gall says can be heard from many health authorities these days. People are working with pen and fax paper, and data protection is slowing down tracking. “From the point of view of the district, the Corona app doesn’t bring us anything,” says Gall. Sometimes employees would spend hours looking for the phone numbers of contact persons.

The doctor only comes for a smear twice a week

And there are problems that do not exist elsewhere: In some villages in Havelland, the next test site is 15 to 20 kilometers away, while the doctor only comes to Rhinow twice a week. Those who are not mobile have to take the bus – which only leaves every few hours. “In Charlottenburg there are more internists on one street than in the entire Havelland,” says Gall, who once lived in Berlin. The low density of doctors becomes a problem for the district during the pandemic.

But you benefit from the proximity to Berlin. It has already been possible to transfer particularly severe cases to the Charité several times. In the district administration, they therefore do not believe in resentment against residents of the capital as possible drivers of pandemics. As a metropolitan region, they would benefit from Berlin’s economic strength. “If we split now, we would have already lost,” says Gall. In order to ensure social peace, one does not want to publish exact case numbers for the individual places in the district. Only the total number of cases is reported – and it is increasing. Despite lockdown.

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