German industry pleads for path out of lockdown, EU coordination

By Rachel More, dpa
Berlin (dpa) – Germany needs a clear path out of the current lockdown, a leading industry group said on Tuesday, as government ministers pledged new plans to gradually relaunch public and economic life in the face of outcry from struggling businesses.

The Federation of German Industries (BDI) presented its 20-point plan for dealing with the pandemic to the government, as Economy Minister Peter Altmaier sought to address lockdown concerns at a conference with business leaders on the crisis.

Among other things, the document calls for the drawing up of a step-by-step plan with practical criteria for safely reopening the economy after months of sweeping closures and restrictions.

This should include a testing and vaccination strategy, the BDI wrote.

The group also demanded Europe-wide coordination of border restrictions, after sweeping entry bans at Germany’s borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian region of Tyrol fuelled supply chain concerns in recent days.

More than 40 associations representing diverse branches of industry were invited to participate in the talks with Altmaier, including from the hard-hit gastronomy, retail and tourism sectors.

Following their discussions, the German minister vowed to work with the manufacturing industry on a set of proposals for a gradual return to normality, which is to be presented to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state premiers for their next round of talks on the lockdown, set for March 3.

Business associations have “understandably” complained that uncertainty regarding next steps has been the most difficult part of the current situation, Altmaier said.

While restaurants, high-street retailers and other businesses deemed non-essential have struggled due to forced closures during the latest lockdown, the manufacturing industry has been largely spared this time around.

But data released by the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) ahead of the conference showed that manufacturing was still struggling as a result of the pandemic.

The number of people employed in German manufacturing declined in 2020 for the first time in a decade, falling by 2.2 per cent on the year to 5.5 million.

But there was also optimism among financial market experts that the German economy would pick up again in the coming months, according to a key survey released on Tuesday.

The ZEW research institute said its indicator of economic sentiment for Germany surged in February by 9.4 points to 71.2 compared to January.

Observers had forecast a decline to 59.5 points.

Financial market experts “are confident that the German economy will be back on the growth track within the next six months,” ZEW President Professor Achim Wambach, noting that consumption and retail were hoping for a rebound in particular.

Germany’s current lockdown was extended in large part last week until March 7, prompting outcry from some business groups following progress in bringing infection rates down. The lockdown had previously been set to end mid-February.

Altmaier has warned that easing the lockdown measures, which snapped back during the course of November and December as cases surged again, has to be done carefully to avoid further economic pain.

“The economy cannot flourish if we get a third wave of infections,” Altmaier told ARD, a broadcaster, ahead of his meeting with industry groups.

The minister pointed to rapid tests as a potential way of alleviating the crisis.

Later on Tuesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn vowed to roll out such testing for the broader population from the beginning of next month.

“From March 1, all citizens will be able to get tested with antigen rapid tests for free by trained personnel,” Spahn announced, adding that the procedures could be carried out in test centres, chemists and health practices.

Plans are also afoot to make such testing available for people to perform themselves at home.


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