Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 13 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Germans cautious dining out despite lockdown easing

Most sectors are a long way from recovering since restrictions were eased

Display mannequins sit between customers to help with coronavirus social distancing rules at the Cafe Livres in Essen, Germany, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. AP Photo
Display mannequins sit between customers to help with coronavirus social distancing rules at the Cafe Livres in Essen, Germany, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. AP Photo

With about 182,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 8,570 deaths attributed to the respiratory disease, Germany has fared much better amid the pandemic than other major European countries such as the UK, Italy, Spain and France.

It became one of the first countries to loosen lockdown measures and its top football division, the Bundesliga, became the first high-status league to restart earlier this month. There are even rumblings that, if the easing of the quarantine measures is successful, foreign summer holidays to ‘safe’ countries may even be on the cards for German residents.

Although Germany started easing lockdown measures earlier this May, it has yet to see a significant spike in infections, which experts say is because of the continuing cautiousness of Germans even after rules have eased. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control has recorded only 300 to 600 new daily coronavirus cases in the past few days.

Local authorities have also agreed to pull an "emergency brake" and reimpose social curbs if the infection rate rises above 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a week.

This cautiousness has been reflected in business and travel activity. Most sectors in Germany have seen a sharp decline in activity since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in mid-March and many are still a long way off recovering, according to new information compiled by The National.

Data taken from Google based on location and GPS information has shown how mobility habits have changed since a nationwide curfew was introduced on March 22 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The figures show business at retail stores and restaurants as well as travel to work remain well below baseline levels (the median value for that given day of the week for the previous five weeks). A much smaller number of people are travelling to transport stations although there is evidence that more are beginning to drive their own cars.

Retail and recreational activity, which includes restaurants, cafes, cinemas, shopping malls, museums and theatres, dropped as much as 71 per cent in the early stages of the lockdown and was still down 55 per cent as of May 21, despite restrictions being eased in Germany a week earlier.

Trips to grocery stores and chemists were down by 87 per cent on May 21 compared to baseline as shopping moved online. Visits to workplaces and offices were down 81 per cent, showing that employers have not been trying to rush their staff back to work.

However, there has been an rise in people going to parks for daily exercise and to take advantage of warmer spring weather. Parks saw a 225 per cent rise in visitors and generally more people were visiting green spaces during lockdown that before the pandemic hit.

According to the IFO Institute for economic research in Munich, the German economy is expected to shrink by 6.6 per cent this year.

Epitomising the far-reaching changes to society that the pandemic has caused to the restaurant industry was an image that went viral from Cafe Rothe in the town of Schwerin.

Customers were instructed to wear pool noodles on their heads to ensure the social distancing rule was followed. An image posted on the cafe’s website was accompanied with the caption: “Today it’s like this: distance measurement.”

Bizarre as it looked, for some it was simpler than meticulously measuring out the distances needed.

Whereas pre-Covid-19 the cafe has 36 tables inside and 20 outside, now it can only allow for eight outside.

Owner Jacqueline Rothe also uploaded footage of herself with a Perspex face mask extending from her forehead to the top of her chest to protect herself.

Melanie Brinkmann, from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, argues “people's behaviour has changed” because of a fear of infection. She cites, for example, how previous shopping numbers or habits have not returned.

She told Die Welt newspaper that even though the measures had been eased, most German people were still erring on the side of caution, limiting their contact to people and going to the shops less.

Epidemiologist Rafael Mikolajczyk, from the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, agreed.

"One possible explanation is that the increased awareness of the population has led to a significant decrease in transmission by persons with symptoms,” Mr Mikolajczyk said.

The changing attitudes of the German public were evident in a poll on holidays published on Friday by public broadcaster ZDF. About 31 per cent of respondents said they planned to spend their off-time in the coming months in Germany, while only 14 per cent said they wanted to go abroad this year. Close to 37 per cent said they planned no holidays, while 18 per cent said they didn’t yet know.

But for a small yet vocal minority the country is not moving fast enough in easing the rules.

Thousands of people took to streets in cities nationwide earlier this month to protest against the remaining restrictions, such as wearing a mask on public transport and limiting social contacts.

In Berlin, hundreds of protesters chanted "Freedom, Freedom" and some threw bottles at police. Despite this, the majority in Germany continue to act with a great degree of caution.

Updated: May 30, 2020 05:42 PM

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