As the coronavirus spreads around the world, two places that seem to have a heightened need for security are hospitals and supermarkets. The number of inquiries from customers has increased noticeably since the crisis began, Germany's Federal Association of Security Companies (BDSW) said in response to questions from DER SPIEGEL.
"Companies seem to be worried that social distances measures will be tightened and that this will cause some customers to react more aggressively," a spokeswoman said. "In some supermarkets, customers are already becoming less friendly toward employees when certain goods are out of stock. A number of store managers seem keen on preventing fist fights or even looting."
In some hospitals, visitors have become indignant because sick patients were only permitted to have one visitor for one hour a day, the spokeswoman added. "Here, too, individual hospitals seem to be preparing themselves for the mood to become more uncomfortable if their occupancy rate rises due to corona."
Kötter Security, the second-largest security company in Germany, confirmed the trend described by the association, but cited other motives for the growing bookings. "There has been an increase in inquiries from clinics and hospitals as well as supermarkets," the company's managing director, Andreas Kaus, told DER SPIEGEL. Bookings have also increased among credit institutions and industrial firms, Kaus said.
The security guards are mostly being asked to regulate access to buildings. "They're to ensure, for instance, that only a limited number of people enter a supermarket or bank foyers at the same time, and that these visitors maintain the necessary minimum distance from each other," Kaus says.
Are Capacity Problems Looming?
Gegenbauer, another German security company, has also reported an increase in "requests for security services from health care institutions, but especially in the retail sector." Now that special coronavirus clinics are being set up, like the one on Berlin's exhibition grounds, the number of such inquiries is likely to increase even further, a spokesperson for Gegenbauer said.
The security industry will likely then run into capacity problems. "On the one hand, more staff is currently available because major events like soccer matches and concerts have been cancelled," the BDSW reports. "At the same time, around 30 percent of security guards are at home sick. Many people have colds. Others, ones who have a slight cough, are staying at home for the time being so as to not accidentally spread the coronavirus."
On top of that, schools and daycares are closed, so some security guards can't work full-time any longer because they have to look after their children, the association reports. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the chambers of industry and commerce have suspended training programs for new security personnel.
Kötter Security chief Kaus has called for unconventional measures. For instance, access to supermarkets and other non-critical infrastructure could also be regulated by untrained service staff, he said. These people could include the owner of a pub that had to close, or a fitness trainer whose gym had to close.
"However, access to areas relevant to public safety, like hospitals, must continue to be regulated by qualified personnel," Kaus says.