German businesses groan under March 7 lockdown extension
The German business community expressed consternation on Thursday after Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed to extend the coronavirus lockdown until March 7.
Under the agreement reached on Wednesday, hair salons will be allowed to reopen from March 1 but the threshold for a gradual re-opening of the rest of the economy has been tightened: an infection rate of no more than 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days, down from 50 previously.
German retailers are currently losing around 700 million euros ($849.17 million) every day stores stay closed, the HDE sector lobby group said, calling the decision to extend the lockdown “inappropriate and incomprehensible”.
If stores are only allowed to open in April, the retail sector will see sales fall 2% in 2021, but if they stay closed until May, the fall will be about 6%, the HDE estimated.
“Politicians are leaving industry in the lurch,” said Andrea Belegante from the BdS lobby group that represents the restaurant and catering business, adding she was “stunned”.
The German economy is on track for growth of 2.8% this year, the DIHK Chambers of Industry and Commerce said on Thursday, below the government’s latest forecast for 3% growth.
Business expectations have dimmed slightly compared to the autumn, the DIHK said. Almost a third of firms expect a negative development in the coming 12 months, and about a fifth expect an improvement, a DIHK survey of 30,000 companies showed.
Anton Boerner, President of the Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA), said the opening plan was too vague:
“We in the wholesale sector need a reliable lead time in order to be able to equip and supply our partners in the catering and hotel industry, as well as canteens,” he told the newspapers of the Funke media group.
Marcel Fratzscher, the President of the German Institute for Economic Research, called for additional government support, particularly for self-employed people and freelancers.
“Too many are still falling behind,” he told ZDF television.
Merkel’s coalition government has launched an array of measures to help companies and consumers in Europe’s biggest economy through the pandemic, including liquidity aid for struggling firms and job protection schemes for employees.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz held out the prospect of a faster disbursement of state aid: “It can happen very quickly now,” he told NTV television.