Berlin pole dancing club turns into COVID test centre under government scheme
Under a subsidised scheme that went into effect on March 1, the German government pays businesses to privately operate coronavirus test centres - an income opportunity as lockdown restrictions ease and demand for tests surged. At Angels, swabs are administered by Harf's staff, including dancers, in the club's red padded leather cubicles decked out with golden mirrors and chandeliers.
Eugen Harf had to close his pole dancing club Angels in Berlin when the pandemic hit, but in April his luck changed when the government threw him and thousands of other shuttered businesses a lifeline. Under a subsidised scheme that went into effect on March 1, the German government pays businesses to privately operate coronavirus test centres - an income opportunity as lockdown restrictions ease and demand for tests surged.
At Angels, swabs are administered by Harf's staff, including dancers, in the club's red padded leather cubicles decked out with golden mirrors and chandeliers. Harf said the government was paying him 18 euros ($21.80) for each test. "It's a huge incentive for businesses like ours," he said at his club, which has a pole dancing stage and heaven-themed bar. Outside, a white banner saying "Corona Test-to-go Station" in red letters hung next to the club's black and gold sign.
As the economy gradually started to reopen this spring, a negative test no older than 24 hours was required to dine at restaurants, sit at cafes or shop in non-essential stores, leading to a surge in demand for tests. In Berlin alone, the number of test-to-go facilities grew from 400 in early March to almost 1,600 this week, according to the city government. This is in addition to 26 government-run testing centres in the German capital.
Harf started with eight tests a day, but as infection numbers fell sharply in mid-May and outdoor dining and malls reopened for anyone with a negative test, demand surged to about 120 tests a day. A 20-year-old student who gave her stage name Lika worked as a dancer at Angels before the pandemic hit was delighted when Harf asked her to work at the test centre.
Clad in a medical gown, visor, mask and gloves, she now spends her shifts at the club administering rapid antigen COVID tests. "The thought of returning to this place after so many months of lockdown and help people engage in activities like shopping and eating out made me so happy," she said.
'CONVENIENT' The Federal Health Ministry said the cost of tests in privately operated test centres across Germany's 16 states stood at almost 194 million euros in March, and the figure almost doubled to some 383 million euros in April.
Germany has made it easy for almost anyone to set up a rapid test centre. Harf filled in an online application form with Berlin's public health authority in which he committed to high standards of hygiene, like regularly disinfecting surfaces and providing professional training for testers. His test centre was approved within days.
"I paid a doctor to train the girls how to carry out a swab test," he said, as about half a dozen people waiting to be tested. "It's more than just the money. It feels good to help people overcome the pandemic." Some people walk out when they realise the testing facility is in a strip club, Harf said. Others find the idea amusing and some take selfies on the pole.
Pascal Werner, a builder who used to visit the club, came in to have a test done so he could have lunch with his co-workers at a burger joint across the street. "If testing was not available here I wouldn't be able to eat out," said Werner. "It's so convenient and it makes me happy to see the girls being able to earn some money."
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