German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government allowed smaller stores to reopen after a shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus has deprived German retailers of 30 billion euros ($33 billion) in sales and pushed many shops to the brink of bankruptcy
Germany is among the first nations in Europe taking cautious steps toward normalcy as the pandemic continues to shutter factories, restaurants and shops from business.
Merkel has won plaudits for her crisis response even as the economy plunged into a deeper recession than during the financial crisis a decade ago. After imposing social distancing measures on March 22, her government fast-tracked more than 1 trillion euros in aid to companies and workers to avoid bankruptcies and mass layoffs.
Merkel and the 16 state prime ministers jointly decided to extend most of the measures until early May. Retail spaces of less than 800 square meters (8,611 square feet) will be reopening, along with car dealerships, bike shops and book stores. Bars, restaurants, gyms and larger stores will have to remain closed.
Supermarkets, small shops and other small retailers will remind customers to keep the government recommended distance of 1.5 metres, private security guards may be found at some entrances to monitor the number of customers number coming into the establishment.
A lot of store owners are not expecting much in terms of a rush as there is still fear and anxiety of contracting the virus.
The chancellery in Berlin is afraid of a coronavirus rebound if all restrictions are lifted too soon. And politicians know that once certain restrictions are lifted they can probably never be put back in place again.
Once children rejoin school it might serve as a challenge to send them back home before the summer break. Once people go back to work it will be difficult to convince them that another lock down is justified.
The government is “urgently” recommending that everyone wear face masks.
It has emphasised repeatedly that the relaxation of the measures is provisional and that continued progress will require the development of sophisticated contact-tracing programmes.
However, not all German states and cities are allowing shops to re-open as in some cities store owners will have to wait until Wednesday in Berlin and Brandenburg. Shops in the state of Thuringia will have to wait until Friday until coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
The southern German state of Bavaria, meanwhile, has decided on a staggered re-opening of stores, DIY stores and garden centers are opening first.
There are a myriad different interpretation of the 800-square-meter requirement: Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Rhineland Palatinate, Schleswig Holstein and Saarland are allowing larger stores to open, as long as they cordon-off the shop floor to meet the size requirement.
In Schleswig Holstein, Brandenburg and Lower Saxony there are also special regulations for shops contained within large shopping centers.
Hair salons will be next in line to resume business on May 4.
There will also be a staggered opening of schools in different states from May 4th while religious gatherings and large events are canceled for the foreseeable future.