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Germany begins lifting coronavirus lockdown as small shops reopen


Germany began on Monday to ease lockdown restrictions and take small steps towards reopening its economy, but confusion among business owners over the policy meant several shops remained closed in the capital.

Last Wednesday, Angela Merkel announced that shops could reopen on 20 April as long as they are smaller than 800m sq, after the country achieved “fragile interim success” in containing the coronavirus outbreak.

Hairdressers and some schools will reopen on 4 May. She recommended shoppers use masks and stay 2m away from each other.

However, Berlin’s mayor, Michael Muller, said the reopening should happen on 22 April. Germany has a federal system, so the exact lockdown terms are decided by state governments.

Some shops with window signs declaring they will be open today remained locked up. “We’re not sure what we are supposed to do,” one clothes shop employee told The Independent. “First we found out from the news that we had to close, then we heard these two different dates. We’re not even sure how many people we should let inside the shop at once.”

Germany has won global admiration for its handling of the outbreak. Its wide-reaching testing and large health system capacity, coupled with good luck that the outbreak largely spread within the younger population, has saved its hospitals from being overwhelmed. Ms Merkel has also been praised for her clear and consistent communication of scientific advice to the public.

However, business owners have said the communication over what they should do now has been lacking. Klaus Heller and his son Tim, who run the Runners Shop sports shoe store on Schönhauser Allee, were fully prepared to open today but have now had to delay until Wednesday.

“We’ve been closed for five weeks and it has cost us €50,000,” said Klaus. “This is usually a really busy time of year for us, when people are starting to exercise outdoors again.” He said he was awarded one of the €15,000 grants for small businesses offered by the German government, but that this hasn’t been enough to make up for losses.

To help the business recover, the family have handed out flyers offering €5 off any purchase over €30. They are also wearing masks and disposable gloves, and plan to give customers masks too, for as long as they have enough stock. “We won’t be letting more than two people in at once, and we will be disinfecting the door handles,” said Tim.

Round the corner at lifestyle boutique Das Goods Haus, owner Lucie Kostmann said she is grateful the Berlin lockdown hasn’t been as strictly enforced as in her native France. Much of the city was a surveillance state prior to the Berlin wall falling in 1989, and so heavy-handed policing is generally unwelcome.

“As a mother of three young children, the biggest difficulty has been the home-schooling,” she said. “Me and my husband are trying to deal with the business while looking after them, and it is really challenging.”


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