Citizens' report on the COVID-19 crisis in Thuringia

Thüringer Ministerium für Migration, Justiz und Verbraucherschutz

The randomly selected Thuringian Citizens' Forum COVID-19 has proposed far-reaching changes in the way the pandemic is handled. For example, the core demands include avoiding school closures and improving the situation in nursing care. Minister of Justice Dirk Adams received the forum's report on behalf of the state government at its last virtual meeting on 26 November 2021.

The panel of 52 randomly selected Thuringian men and women was intended to make the "unadulterated everyday knowledge" of citizens in the Corona crisis useful for decision-making in the Free State. In total, the report, which was produced after several digital meetings and workshops, resulted in 55 proposals.

Main topics

The main focus of the deliberations was on questions of motivation of learners and teachers, hybrid teaching for pupils in quarantine or learning arrears. In addition, the forum was concerned about a split in society due to the introduction of the 2G rule in everyday life.

In order to improve working conditions in nursing, the nationalisation of hospitals is a central point for the Citizens' Forum. Bureaucratic hurdles (e.g. data protection in patient admissions) and the focus on profit hinder public welfare-oriented health care. The availability of health care should be ensured by many smaller hospitals rather than by large complexes.

"Staying in the conversation"

Minister Dirk Adams thanked the participants for their commitment and, on behalf of the Zebralog team, Managing Director Matthias Trénel for preparing and moderating the Citizens' Forum: "The scope and qualitative resilience of the recommendations have shown us that it was right to obtain a realistic picture of opinion through a representative selection from the Thuringian population. As the Minister of Migration, I was particularly pleased that the forum called for an improvement in the framework conditions for the training of refugees in nursing in order to counteract the nursing crisis. Their citizens' report is a reminder and an obligation for us, and not only here."

State Secretary Dr Julia Heesen thanked the panel for its intensive work, which had to deal with the entire breadth of state and, in some cases, even federal policy: "Because the pandemic has affected all areas of life, the Citizens' Forum also had to cover a huge range of topics and get involved in highly specialised expert discourses. I think it is important that we stay in dialogue about this and that we openly communicate what has been achieved, but also what cannot be implemented, in the coming months."

Talk with minister and State Secretary

In two salons, the participants had the opportunity to talk with Dirk Adams and State Secretary Heesen about the report and current developments. The topics were the motivation of learners and teachers, hybrid teaching for pupils in quarantine, the teaching of media competence, learning backlogs and the lack of specialist teachers.

Above all, the participants were concerned about the different levels of digital equipment in the schools. The participants were also concerned with the question of whether a 2G regulation would actually help to break the fourth Corona wave. There was a great danger that this regulation would further divide society. However, all participants agreed that there should not be an overload of intensive care units and that hospitals must remain able to work.

More citizen participation called for

Juliane Niwa, as spokesperson for the participants, met with broad agreement with the demand for more citizen participation in Thuringia: "There must be more advertising". Another participant said it had been good that the forum was composed of the middle of society: "It was beneficial to experience that there is more than the loud fringes."

In order to understand the "average Joe", the (democratically found) opinion of "ordinary citizens" should, if possible, be sought through citizens' forums in each ministry, in addition to high-level consultancies. Thuringia could be a pioneer in citizen participation and involve people representing the whole spectrum of the population in the decision-making process, says the citizens' report.

"A technical challenge"

Ruth Rost, one of the oldest participants in the Citizens' Forum at over 70 years old, said, "It was a technical challenge for me, which I was able to overcome thanks to the support of the organising team." A real highlight, she said, was being able to speak personally with representatives of the state government about their family experiences during the pandemic.

The citizens' report contains a total of 55 recommendations from the participants in the areas of care and health, digitalisation, youth and education, work and culture, politics and cohesion, and mass sports. Thirteen of these had already been presented to the cabinet on 14.09.2021 as so-called "immediate measures".

Statement from the state government

In November 2021, the state government responded to the recommendations of the Citizens' Forum with a statement. The responsible ministries then incorporated the citizens' suggestions as part of further activities to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in Thuringia.

The state government agrees with the participants of the Citizens' Forum that the transparent presentation of the necessary information was not always fully successful, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. The feedback from the citizens' forum, as well as feedback from individual citizens, institutions or other third parties, was repeatedly used as an opportunity to rethink, revise, improve and make regulations and their presentation to the outside world more transparent.

Proposals on digital education taken up

The social significance of sport, including its outstanding function as a link within the overall social fabric, is undisputed. The progress made in the fight against the pandemic at the time would have helped to ensure that the importance of sport could have been recognised to a much greater extent again and that sporting activities could have been maintained with comparatively few restrictions.

The Thuringian Ministry of Education and Youth has already taken up the proposals for appropriate digital teaching concepts and educational reform. At the time of the statement, the "Computer Science and Media Education" curriculum was being developed, which would be trialled in the 2021/2022 school year, and the Thuringian framework plan for skills in education in the digital world was also being developed.

No school closures across the board

The Citizens' Forum's wish to avoid comprehensive school closures in future is in line with the state government's wishes. The state's regulations are focussed on targeted measures for the regions and areas where the outbreak is actually occurring.

The Thuringian Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health, Women and Family welcomes the recommendation to subsidise sponsorships between volunteers and people in need of care as well as projects for the further training of volunteers in an unbureaucratic manner. However, some of the proposed structures already exist, such as volunteer agencies, senior citizens' offices, and the Thuringian volunteer portal. The TES's "care companion" project has been handed over to the Alzheimer's Association.

Framework conditions for training refugees

The state government also welcomes the proposal to create a framework for training refugees in the care sector. The Thuringian Ministry of Migration, Justice and Consumer Protection had already issued instructions to the immigration authorities in 2020 on the application of the provision on training toleration in accordance with Section 60c of the Residence Act in order to facilitate the granting of training toleration. This also benefits refugees who wish to take up training in the care professions. Refugees have access to German courses either via the federal integration courses or the state-funded "Start Deutsch" courses.

The state government has taken up the proposal on digital skills. As part of the state family support plan, a working group was set up in early summer 2021 to develop concrete implementation proposals for digital training for families and senior citizens.

Cultural vouchers and digitalisation

The recommendation on vouchers for cultural institutions is already being implemented in part through the family card. Children entitled to child benefit who live in Thuringia receive the Thuringian Family Card as a voucher booklet worth 50 euros. These vouchers could be redeemed by Thuringian families at participating cultural and leisure facilities until 14 November 2021.

The proposal of the Citizens Forum to shorten bureaucratic processes through digitalised application channels is not suitable for immediate measures, as this would require a longer organisational and planning lead time. However, the proposal is already part of the implementation of the Online Access Act and the Thuringian E-Government Act. By the end of 2022, many applications will be digitised and therefore available online for citizens and companies.

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