BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will consider relaxing restrictions next week on shops introduced last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus but extend limits on movement until May 3, several participants in talks between regional and central government said on Wednesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is to hold talks with state premiers of Germany’s 16 states from 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) to agree whether and how to loosen some of the restrictions given some improvement in the situation.
Among the issues under discussion are when schools, shops and factories may re-open, the option of making people wear protective face masks in public and the merits of a mobile phone app to help trace new cases.
Merkel’s cabinet has already decided to extend border controls to Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark by 20 days to early May, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
With several EU countries now trying different ways to ease their restrictions, the European Commission is urging member states to coordinate their efforts, warning that failure to do so could result in new spikes in cases.
Infectious disease experts say that four weeks of keeping schools, factories and shops shut has brought progress but warn that the epidemic is not yet contained and there is a long way to go before normal life resumes in Europe’s biggest economy.
Companies and politicians are also worried about the economic impact of a long shutdown although the government has tried to cushion the blow with a range of measures, including a 750-billion-euro ($822.23 billion) stimulus package.
The Economy Ministry said Germany entered a recession in March and the slowdown is likely to continue until the middle of the year.
“Collapsing global demand, interruption of supply chains, changes in consumer behaviour and uncertainty among investors are having massive impact on Germany,” it said.
It said even if social distancing measures were eased, economic activity would continue to be very subdued and would only pick up gradually.
Some 725,000 companies in Germany had applied for short-time work by April 13, the Labour Office said on Wednesday, a roughly 12% rise from the previous week, said the Labour Office.
Short-time work is a form of state aid that allows employers to switch employees to shorter working hours during an economic downturn to keep them on the payroll. It has been widely used by industry, including Germany’s car sector.
Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases have risen by 2,486 to 127,584, said the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases earlier, with a reported death toll of 3,254 people.
Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin and Alison Williams