German Industrial Output Shows Modest Recovery In May

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows a view of closed restaurants, bars and locations for adult entertainment on the “Grosse Freiheit” street in the red light district of the northern German city of Hamburg on March 19, 2020. MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP

 

German industrial output rebounded 7.8 percent in May, showing a modest recovery after steep falls in March and April due to the effects of the coronavirus, official data showed Tuesday.

By category, production of machine tools were up 27.6 percent on the month, intermediate goods stagnated at 0.1 percent and consumer goods were up slightly at 1.4 percent, the Destatis official statistics agency said.

The May outcome however fell short of the 10 percent rise predicted by analysts.

“The figure is disappointing. After the sharp declines of the previous months, we expected more,” said Jens Oliver Niklasch, an economist for the LBBW bank.

Output remains down 19.3 percent on May last year, a sign of the slow economic recovery after the restrictive measures put in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Production in the beleaguered auto industry increased in May but was still 50 percent below levels in February, before the effects of the pandemic began to bite.

German industrial output plunged a record 17.5 percent in April compared with March as the coronavirus pandemic shut down Europe’s biggest economy.

After two months of lockdown to slow the spread of the virus, the country gradually began lifting restrictions in May.

However, the economic effects of the pandemic are likely to be felt for several more months as the country entered a recession in the first half of the year, with total economic output down 2.2 percent in the first three months.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government expects a return to growth “after the summer break” and “from October at the latest”, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the Bild daily on Sunday.

AFP

German Virus Hunters Track Down COVID-19 Outbreaks

 

A team of medical students pressed into service by Cologne’s public health office are scrambling to cut off potential new chains of coronavirus infections by endlessly repeating the same questions.

“What are your symptoms? Who have you met in the last few days?” they ask people with confirmed or suspected cases.

Such painstaking detective work is vital to avoid a second wave with more deaths and economic damage, as Germany eases the far-reaching lockdowns imposed in March to control the disease’s spread.

From Tuesday, the human virus trackers are backed up by an official contact tracing app, aping other nations’ efforts to automate identification of potentially infectious encounters.

For now, a fax dropping out of the machine in the Cologne office announcing another positive coronavirus test marks the start line for the team.

– Relentless questioning –

With not a minute to lose, the health office aims to call the new case within an hour.

Their task on that first call starts with warning the person they are sick and should quarantine themselves.

But the staff must also “manage emotions” that can range from a false sense of security to panic, says Andreas Gehlhar, one of the 200 students manning the phones since March.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

For worse-afflicted neighbours Germany has proved to be an example, with fewer deaths, at around 8,800, than other European countries like France, Italy or Britain.

Medical students’ training in taking a case history from a patient has proved “vital for tracking down the disease,” Gehlhar says.

From the initial case, they spread their net to all of the people they might have come into contact with in the 48 hours before the positive test.

Like detectives, the tracers often can’t settle for the first answer they get.

“An old person living in shared housing might tell us she’s only seen her daughter in the last two days, and later you find out she spoke to the cleaning staff in the stairwell or sat for 30 minutes in the waiting room at the doctor’s office where she was tested,” said Barbara Gruene.

A student doctor, Gruene has found herself at the head of one of the three “brigades” of contact trackers staffing the office.

Once the most extensive possible list of contacts for each case has been established, they must then call each person in turn.

Between them the students can check up on the contactees in more than 20 languages, vital among Cologne’s million-strong multiethnic population.

The tracers hope to convince all first-degree contacts to place themselves under quarantine.

“The vast majority agrees,” says Gruene, allowing the office to “break the virus’ chains of transmission”.

– Second wave looms –

In a microcosm of Germany as a whole, Cologne’s toll from the virus remains limited, with 2,500 infections since February and 100 deaths.

The daily tally of new cases is well below the peak of the pandemic in March.

But “that’s no reason to let our guards down,” warns doctor Johannes Niessen, the head of the public health office.

As lockdowns are eased, the federal government plans to step up testing in parallel to keep the virus’ spread under control.

“We’re prepared for the second wave of infections that could arrive in the autumn,” Niessen says.

Not all of Germany’s 400 public health offices are as resilient as Cologne’s, with the number of doctors recruited by the state down by a third in the past 15 years according to public health doctors’ federation BVOeGD.

Many departing colleagues have not been replaced, as the public salaries on offer can’t compete with the private sector.

The federal health ministry has vowed to spend 50 million euros ($56 million) digitising public health offices, and in the spring recruited 500 students as “containment scouts” deployed to virus hotspots around Germany.

Meanwhile, the German army told AFP it has pressed 190 soldiers into service as contact tracers in health offices nationwide.

Even the new tracking app “cannot replace our contact work nor the advice we give to patients,” tracker Gruene believes.

AFP

Pandemic-Hit Lufthansa Says 22,000 Jobs To Go

lufthansa
(FILES) This file photo taken on April 28, 2020 shows a technician of the German airline Lufthansa working at a parked plane at the “Franz-Josef-Strauss” airport in Munich, southern Germany. German airline Lufthansa is to cut 22,000 jobs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a spokesman said on June 11, 2020.

 

German airline Lufthansa said Thursday that it would have to slash 22,000 full-time jobs as it predicts a muted recovery in demand for travel following the coronavirus pandemic.

“The recovery in demand in the air transport sector will be slow in the foreseeable future,” the airline said.

The group will operate about 100 less aircraft after the crisis, leading to “a total of 22,000 fewer full-time positions in the Lufthansa Group, half of them in Germany”.

The posts make up 16 percent of the Lufthansa Group’s total workforce of 135,000.

The airline said however that it would look at how it could use schemes for shorter work hours and other crisis arrangements to avoid outright redundancies.

Lufthansa, like its peers, has been brought to its knees by restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Around 700 of the group’s 763 aircraft were grounded at the peak of the lockdowns and it was forced to place 87,000 workers on government-backed shorter hours schemes.

Lufthansa’s supervisory board last week approved a nine-billion-euro bailout deal from the German government after the company posted a first-quarter net loss of 2.1 billion euros ($2.3 billion).

The bailout will see the German government take a 20-percent stake in the group, with an option on a further five percent plus one share to block hostile takeovers.

The airline has also lost its place on Frankfurt’s Dax 30 index after its share price collapsed.

“Without a significant reduction in personnel costs during the crisis, we will miss the opportunity of a better restart from the crisis and risk the Lufthansa Group emerging from the crisis significantly weakened,” said Michael Niggemann, who heads the airline’s human resources and legal affairs departments.

AFP

German Cup: Frankfurt Wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ Logo On Shirts

Players vie for the ball during the German Cup (DFB Pokal) semi-final football match FC Bayern Munich v Eintracht Frankfurt in Munich, southern Germany on June 10, 2020.  AFP

 

Eintracht Frankfurt wore playing shirts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Wednesday’s German Cup semi-final, while opponents Bayern Munich warmed up in T-shirts bearing the same anti-racism message.

“Our team and the whole of Eintracht Frankfurt are united against all forms of racism and we want to show that publicly today,” explained Frankfurt director Fredi Bobic before kick-off behind closed doors.

Frankfurt’s shirts bearing the logo “#BlackLivesMatter” is the latest sign of solidarity from the Bundesliga in the wake of the death of black American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a fortnight ago at the hands of police.

The Bayern team warmed-up before their home semi-final in white T-shirts bearing the #BlackLivesMatter logo and “Rot Gegen Rassismus” (Red against Racism), referring to their famous playing strip.

The corner flags at Bayern’s Allianz Arena also carried the same messages.

Borussia Dortmund also wore warm-up T-Shirts showing solidarity for the protests, which have taken place in cities across the US and around the world, before their league match last weekend.

They were among the Bundesliga clubs who also knelt on one knee before kick-off in their league matches at the weekend.

Floyd, who was buried on Monday, died when a policeman kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the end of May and his death, caught on video, sparked waves of protests.

AFP

EU Tells UK Post-Brexit Deal Vital During COVID-19 Crisis

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator told Britain on Sunday that the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis made it especially important the sides reach a new trade deal.

EU and UK negotiators will enter a fourth and last scheduled round of talks this week that could determine if a comprehensive new agreement is struck by the year-end deadline.

Britain formally left the other 27 EU nations in January but still largely operates as if it were a member of the bloc.

It also continues making contributions to the EU budget — a reality that particularly upsets Brexit supporters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed not to extend the talks past the current deadline — something he must do by the end of June — and the prospects of a broad new deal look bleak.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told The Sunday Times that London and Brussels could afford to make the economic situation even worse by breaking off their nearly 50-year partnership without arrangements for what comes next.

– ‘Three steps back’ –

“If we don’t get an agreement then that will have even more consequences. And then of course those will be added to the already very serious consequences of the coronavirus crisis,” Barnier said.

“So I think that we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis, which affects so many families… with so many deaths, so many people sick, so many people unemployed… to do everything we can to reach an agreement and I very much hope that we will do so.”

READ ALSO: 100-Year-Old Indonesian Woman Beats COVID-19

The previous round of talks ended in acrimony in May.

Johnson is expected to work out the best way forward with EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a summit held shortly before the June deadline to extend the talks by up to two years.

READ ALSO: 100-Year-Old Indonesian Woman Beats COVID-19

The European Union is willing to offer Britain preferential trade terms if Johnson signs up to the major standards and regulations followed by the remaining members of the bloc.

Johnson’s team argues that the whole point of Brexit was to give Britain the right to set its own rules.

Barnier accused UK negotiators of reneging on the commitments Johnson signed up to in a non-binding political declaration that accompanied the sides’ formal divorce deal.

“The UK has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments,” Barnier told The Sunday Times.

“The UK negotiators need to be fully in line with what the prime minister signed up to with us.”

AFP

German Choirs Silenced As Singing Branded COVID-19 Risk

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 10, 2020, members of the congregation wearing protective face masks observe social distancing as they attend a Sunday service at the Berliner Dom cathedral in Berlin, amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP.

 

When the Berlin Cathedral Choir gathered for a rehearsal on March 9, the new coronavirus was still a distant concern, with fewer than 50 confirmed cases in the German capital.

But five days later, one of the ensemble’s 80 singers contacted choir director Tobias Brommann to say she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Within two weeks, around 30 members had tested positive and a further 30 were showing symptoms — including Brommann himself, who was struck down with a headache, cough and fever.

“We also can’t be sure if those without symptoms were not infected too, as we have not done antibody tests,” Brommann told AFP.

Hardly considered an extreme activity up to now, singing — especially choral singing — is quickly earning a reputation in the pandemic as about the most dangerous thing you can do.

Similar horror stories have emerged from choirs around the world, including one in Amsterdam where 102 singers are reported to have fallen sick with COVID-19.

– High-risk activity –

Though much is not yet understood about how the new coronavirus spreads, anecdotal evidence has been enough to convince German authorities that singing is a particularly high-risk activity.

Under new freedoms being gradually introduced across the country’s states, Germans can meet friends in the park, dine in a restaurant, play sports, go to church, browse the shops, watch football and even go swimming.

READ ALSO: EU Agency To Set Up ‘Independent’ Research On COVID-19 Vaccine

But singing remains broadly off limits, and it looks likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

In recommendations for the resumption of church services published in April, the federal government stated that singing should be avoided “because of the increased production of potentially infectious droplets, which can be spread over greater distances”.

Several states have heeded the advice and banned singing from services.

Even Germany’s revered Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre has warned against singing, with RKI head Lothar Wieler saying that “droplets fly particularly far when singing”.

– Infectious particles –

The fears are partly based on the fact that when singing, as Brommann points out, “you inhale and exhale very deeply, so if there are virus particles floating in the air then they can get into the lungs relatively quickly”.

But there is also evidence to suggest that singing produces especially high numbers of potentially infectious micro-particles. According to a study published in the Nature journal in 2019, saying “aah” for 30 seconds produces twice as many such particles as 30 seconds of continuous coughing.

Indeed, many choirs fear their future looks bleak. Five German boys’ choirs have written to the government saying their existence is under threat and demanding action to save them from ruin.

At the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district, there have been no choir rehearsals since early March.

Soprano Heike Benda-Blanck, 59, has been singing there for 10 years.

“I do miss it,” she said. “You can still sing in the shower but it’s not the same.”

Some research has given cause for optimism. The Bundeswehr University in Munich published a study in early May showing that singing only disturbs air flow up to half a metre (1.6 feet) in front of the person.

Freiburg University’s Institute for Performing Arts Medicine has also published guidelines for singing partly based on a study it carried out in the southern city of Bamberg with similar results.

However, institute head Bernhard Richter warns: “Contrary to what was sometimes reported, we did not make any aerosol measurements” — tiny particles that have the potential to circulate much further in a room.

The institute published updated guidelines this week that include limiting the number of people in the room and the length of rehearsals, staying two metres apart, keeping rooms ventilated, screening choir members and wearing masks.

– ‘Work in progess’ –

“This is a work in progress,” Richter said. “Of course singers want clear statements, black and white, but then you have to say, maybe we don’t know yet.”

In proposals to the authorities, Germany’s Catholic Church has endorsed “quiet singing” in services, as well as restricting numbers and requiring people to stand 1.5 metres apart, though the Protestant Church continues to advise a complete ban.

But the potential dangers of singing became clear once again this month after a virus outbreak at a church service in Frankfurt — where the congregation had been singing and not wearing masks. At least 40 people were infected at the service, with 112 affected overall.

It remains to be seen whether singing can be controlled at other events in Germany, such as Bundesliga football matches, which are being played behind closed doors until further notice.

Singing could also potentially spread the virus at large events such as rock concerts and the Oktoberfest beer festival, where rowdy singing is an integral of the proceedings — undoubtedly one of the reasons it has been cancelled for 2020.

A spokesman for the interior ministry told AFP that since all major events are banned until at least August 31 in Germany anyway, this remains a “hypothetical question”.

“It depends on how the infection situation develops,” he said.

AFP

German Consumer Confidence Improves Slightly After COVID-19 Shock

 

German consumer confidence recovered some of the ground lost due the coronavirus shock but it remains deep in negative territory as Europe’s top economy faces a slow recovery, a survey showed Tuesday.

Pollsters GfK said their forward-looking monthly barometer for June showed a reading of minus 18.9 points, up from the May reading of minus 23.1 when the indicator plunged 25 points overall.

Despite the improvement, the June level is the second-lowest ever measured by the survey since its creation in 1980, GfK said.

“Step-by-step reopening of many businesses has definitely helped prevent any further erosion,” GfK expert Rolf Buerkl said.

“But uncertainty remains high among consumers. They believe the German economy is far from out of the woods and expect to be hit by a serious recession.”

Looking to the sub-indexes that make up the consumer confidence measure, people’s expectations for the economic outlook and for their own income both improved — but also remained in negative territory.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Heightens Heatwave Health Risks, UN Warns

Meanwhile respondents’ openness to making purchases clambered back into low positive figures.

“People’s fear of losing their job remains high, and alongside slashed incomes, that’s turning out to be a significant brake on consumption,” Buerkl said.

GfK polled around 2,000 people between May 6 and 18 to compile this month’s survey.

AFP

German Doctor Warns Footballers Of ‘Irreversible’ Damage From COVID-19

(L-R) French midfielder Corentin Tolisso, Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Spanish defender Alvaro Odriozola and French defender Lucas Hernandez wear face masks as they arrive for a training session of the German first division Bundesliga football club FC Bayern Munich on May 13, 2020 at the Bayern’s campus in Munich, southern Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP.

 

Despite rigid hygiene guidelines for the restart of the Bundesliga this weekend, a leading German sports doctor has warned footballers are still at risk of suffering “irreversible” and potentially career-ending lung damage from the coronavirus.

With Europe’s other top leagues at least a month away from resuming, the German Football League (DFL) has drawn up strict rules for when games restart this Saturday.

Matches will be played behind closed doors, with only a limited number of media and officials allowed to attend.

The key games see second-placed Borussia Dortmund at home to Schalke in Saturday’s derby and leaders Bayern Munich, who are four points clear, visiting Union Berlin on Sunday.

Players have been told to limit contact, even on the pitch, and must avoid pre-match handshakes and hugs to celebrate goals.

The DFL says while no plan could ever be “100 percent safe”, the guidelines aim to create a playing environment with a low, “medically-justifiable risk”.

However, professor Wilhelm Bloch, from the German Sports University in Cologne, warns that contracting the coronavirus has the potential to end a player’s career.

READ ALSO: EU Offers Vaccine Hope As WHO Warns Virus Here To Stay 

“There is a risk that top athletes may lose their level of performance and never regain it,” Bloch told AFP in a phone interview.

“Generally, the physical makeup, immune system and cardiovascular system of elite athletes means that the risk to them is low.

“However, we do not know at this time whether even minor infections, or even mild symptoms, do not cause damage, such as minor scarring of the lungs after an inflammation.

“This damage may be irreversible, or may last a very long time before the body repairs it.

“We’ve already had players infected in Europe and we’ll soon know if they recover their full potential.”

– Increased injury risk –

Bloch said it is near impossible to estimate what the risk is to footballers in Germany, which currently has 172,239 recorded cases of the virus and over 7,700 deaths.

“Players are not in total quarantine, they are with their families, even if they have been instructed to limit contact,” he said.

“And there are also risks during matches.

“They will all be tested, but not all the coronavirus tests work perfectly. There is a relatively large margin of error.”

The sports doctor says another concern is injuries to players, given their lack of match fitness since the league stopped in mid-March.

“Obviously, the players are not optimally prepared,” Bloch said, with clubs only resuming full team training last week.

“Depending on the degree of preparation, the risk of injury increases.

“We can expect that the players will be more prone to injuries.

“We will see muscle injuries, but also injuries to the musculoskeletal system and tendons.

“You can’t compare it with the start of the season.

“At the beginning of the season they normally have a very intensive training period, then a short break so that the body can regenerate, and then they attack the season.

“Now, that hasn’t been possible for all the teams.”

Bloch also wonders how players can be expected to throw themselves into tackles after weeks of being told to observe social distancing.

“I’m not a psychologist, it’s difficult to assess, but I think it’s going to be a difficult transition and it won’t necessarily be good for their performance,” said Bloch.

“It’s also going to be one of those factors that you have to consider and one of the risk factors for injury.”

AFP

German Coronavirus Spread Worsens As Lockdown Eases

Forensic experts of the police stand near the site where a shooter, believed to have a personal motive, launched an assault on January 24, 2020 in the town of Rot am See in southwestern Germany. Marijan Murat / DPA / AFP
Forensic experts of the police stand near the site where a shooter, believed to have a personal motive, launched an assault on January 24, 2020 in the town of Rot am See in southwestern Germany. Marijan Murat / DPA / AFP.

 

First signs that transmission of the novel coronavirus has again picked up were visible in German official data, just as the country attempts a cautious easing of its lockdown measures.

The reproduction or infection rate under close watch by health authorities mounted again to around 1.0, meaning each infected person passes the virus on to one other, figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control showed late Tuesday.

Ministers and virologists have hammered home the importance of squeezing the number below 1.0.

And the country has seen days of intense media and political debate after Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germany’s federal states against loosening their lockdowns too quickly.

Since mid-April, the infection rate had sunk as low as 0.7 before inching back up again.

READ MORE: UN Tells Firms To Make Worker Returns Safe As COVID-19 Lockdowns Ease

Meanwhile, the mortality rate from the disease has also been rising day by day.

By Tuesday, it had reached 3.8 percent according to RKI figures, which remains well below some neighbouring countries such as France.

The latest data showed 156,337 cases in Germany and 5,913 deaths.

Rising infection and mortality rates could pose a puzzle for authorities, as a population chafing at lockdown measures is just beginning to enjoy some refound freedoms and an initial united front in politics and media crumbles.

Health Minister Jens Spahn earlier in April declared the pandemic “under control” in Germany, as Merkel and state premiers agreed smaller shops could open from last week and some pupils return to school from next Monday.

Meanwhile, some major businesses like car giant Volkswagen have restarted production in recent days.

Now the less encouraging data will flow into the chancellor’s deliberations with regional leaders on Thursday, ahead of a new round of lockdown decisions on May 6.

Until now, the May 6 gathering had been expected to bring further easing of restrictions.

Merkel’s pleas not to rush a step-by-step unwinding of lockdown for fear of again worsening the virus’ spread were dismissed or even blasted as authoritarian by some voices in media and the opposition.

“Even if we assume that one person infects 1.1 others, we would reach the limits of what our health system and intensive care beds can manage in October,” she warned earlier this month.

“If we assume a rate of 1.2… we would reach the health system’s limit in July. And with a rate of 1.3 — it doesn’t sound like much — we would get there in June already,” she added.

AFP

Merkel Pleads For ‘Patience’ In COVID-19 Battle

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a press conference on March 11, 2020 in Berlin to comment on the situation of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. AFP

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Thursday for “patience” in the coronavirus crisis, saying that society will have to “live with the virus” until a vaccine becomes available.

“It will need patience… a lot will depend on whether people continue to keep their distance from one another and wash their hands,” said Merkel at a news conference.

Though the rate of infection has slowed in Germany in recent days, Merkel warned that COVID-19 “will not disappear before we have a vaccine to immunise the population: and that means living with this virus.”

The veteran leader said recent figures were cause for “cautious optimism”, but insisted that restrictions on public life would only be able to be rolled back on a step-by-step basis.

“I don’t want to take such a big step that it throws us back completely and we find ourselves once again with an exponential rise (in the number of cases),” she said.

Germany’s restrictions, which include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and the closure of all non-essential shops, are currently in place until April 19, with the federal and state governments set to review them next week.

The debate over when and how to lift the measures continues to grow in Germany, especially after neighbouring Austria announced plans this week to relax its curbs.

Merkel said that Germany could be “happy” that it had avoided more stringent measures such as those in France, Spain or Italy, but warned that the situation was still “fragile”.

Restrictions would only be lifted “slowly”, she said, with their effectiveness reviewed on a “two to three week basis”.

Earlier Thursday, Health Minister Jens Spahn also warned that any relaxations would happen “step by step, if at all”.

The Easter weekend would be a “fork in the road” on the return to normal circumstances, he added.

Germany had 108,202 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for public health.

Just over 2,100 people have died, giving Germany a far lower coronavirus mortality rate than other European nations.

The country appears to be out of a period exponential growth, with Spahn noting that “the number of new infections is beginning to level off”.

Yet RKI president Lothar Wieler cautioned that it was too early to “talk about an easing-off”, as the daily number of new cases continued to fluctuate.

AFP

PHOTOS: Nigerian, German Delegates Meet To Boost Trade Ties

 

Delegates of the Nigerian and Germany Binational Commission met on Thursday in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The members held discussions on policies which will aid the fight against insurgency, improve migration policies, improve economic relations and improve energy in Nigeria.

The 6th Nigeria-Germany Binational Commission’s meeting also afforded delegates the opportunity to create stronger ties between the countries, improve the socio-economic lives of Nigerians and establish an enabling environment for all.

See photos below:

Lufthansa To Scrap 1,300 Flights Over Two-Day German Strike

courtesy: lufthansa.com

 

Lufthansa said Wednesday it was scrapping 1,300 flights as German cabin crew pressed ahead with a two-day strike, plunging passengers into travel chaos amid an escalating row over pay and conditions.

READ ALSO: Four Tourists Among Six Wounded In Jordan Stabbing – Security Official

“As a result of the strike, around 180,000 passengers will be affected by 1,300 flight cancellations,” the airline said in a statement after losing a court battle to halt the stoppage.

The 48-hour walkout is due to start at 2300 GMT.