The German government will relax its two-month-long coronavirus lockdown. Certain shops, categorized as ‘daily needs retail,’ may reopen provided they follow strict hygiene rules and only allow a limited number of customers.
For shops with a retail space of 800 square meters, only one customer per ten square meters will be allowed. For bigger shops, two customers are permitted per 30 square meters.
Restrictions on private meetings have also been relaxed. A household can now meet another household as long as there are only five people in total. Lifting restrictions on zoos, museums, and other retail shops will depend on each region’s infection levels. In early March, hairdressers and schools were already permitted to open.
German businesses have expressed concern over the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions. The slow speed has terminated hopes of a rebound in consumer spending this month.
Experts are concerned that the continued restrictions might also damage the economy long-term. Except for approved stores, other retailers can only open their shops if the infection numbers are below 50 per 100,000 people over seven days in their region. In case the number exceeds 50, coronavirus restrictions will again kick in.
Stefan Genth, Chief Executive of the HDE retail association, called the government decision a “disaster for the retail sector.” According to the HDE, German retailers will likely lose an additional 10 billion euros (approx. US$12.1 billion) by the end of this month compared to 2019.
Joerg Kraemer, an economist at Commerzbank, predicts Germany’s GDP to decline by 1.8 percent for the Jan-March period.
Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of the association representing skilled trades, wants the government to speed up its mass testing and vaccination campaign. He said that the administration must also consider factors other than infection levels. When making a decision related to the pandemic, he suggested including vaccination numbers and the ICU situation.
“In order to prevent the death of businesses on a broad front, economic life must be made possible again as quickly as possible… The decisions taken now do not do justice to this,” he said in a statement.
Many businesses have come forward to help with the vaccination campaigns. For example, Siemens, Allianz, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, Axel Springer, and Adidas have offered their medical staff to help with vaccinations.
A third wave?
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, has warned that a third wave of coronavirus has hit Germany. At a news conference, Wieler stated that the virus is probably here to stay. However, once a base level of immunity has been established, it will become easier to control the infection.
“At the beginning of this year, we succeeded very well in reducing the number of cases. But the pandemic is not over, on the contrary. Now we are at the beginning of a third wave… We have to prevent the number of cases from exploding again,” he told The Local. Failure to do so can add a heavy burden on the healthcare system.
Wieler called Germany’s vaccination campaign a race against a constantly evolving virus. He is confident that the country will eventually be able to control the pandemic. But until that time, he wants people to wear face masks and observe social distancing rules.