German Economy Set For ‘Significant’ Recession, Experts Say

A Swissair plane takes off past aircraft of low-cost carrier Easyjet on the tarmac of Berlin’s Tegel airport on March 30, 2020, amid a new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Germany’s 83 million people are currently under slightly less strict lockdown conditions than in other European nations like France and Italy, with non-essential excursions outside mostly still allowed.
John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

Measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak will slash German 2020 economic output by 2.8 to 5.4 percent before a rebound next year, a panel of economists who advise the government said Monday.

“The German economy will shrink significantly in 2020,” the so-called “Wise Men” expert panel (SVR) said, with the exact size of the impact “depending on the extent and duration of health policy measures and the subsequent recovery”.

Like other economists around the world, the group sketched different scenarios for the virus’ impact on Europe’s top economy depending on whether it follows a “V” shape, with a sharp drop matched by a swift recovery, or a more prolonged “U” in which the rebound takes longer to materialise.

Germany’s 83 million people are currently under slightly less strict lockdown conditions than in other European nations like France and Italy, with non-essential excursions outside mostly still allowed.

But companies from airline giant Lufthansa to car behemoth Volkswagen have already slashed their operations in response.

– ‘V’ or ‘U’? –

In their central outlook with activity “normalising over the summer”, the SVR forecast a 2.8 percent drop in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, followed by a 3.7 percent expansion next year.

But a deeper “V” due to widespread halts in production or a longer period of isolation to slow the virus’ spread could bring a 5.4 percent slump, followed by growth of 4.9 percent in 2021.

In the still-more-damaging “U” scenario, with contact restrictions lasting “beyond the summer” and economic recovery setting in only next year, GDP might fall 4.5 percent in 2020, but add just 1.0 percent next year, the experts suggested.

SVR member Achim Trueger urged Berlin to coordinate with governments elsewhere in Europe and further afield on both health and economic measures to lay the groundwork for the recovery in Germany’s highly-interconnected economy.

“It’s not much good if one country, hopefully Germany, comes through the crisis relatively well, but around us, the crisis is not yet over, then we won’t be able to ramp up production,” Trueger said.

The SVR members hailed as  “welcome” a 1.1-trillion-euro package of economic support from Berlin including easier access to benefits for workers on shorter hours, guarantees for loans to business and direct support for firms hardest hit by the crisis — up to and including the state taking stakes in stricken companies.

In the weeks ahead, “optimum use should be made of the time during which the public health measures are in place in order to support the recovery and long-term economic development,” the experts added.

That could range from training and further education for workers to make faster progress on construction projects in areas affected by shutdowns, like schools and public transport.

“Further, the restrictions make fast progress on digitalisation imperative for businesses and public administration,” the economists said — with integrating IT into daily work, an area where Germany is widely seen as lagging behind.

 

– Slowing inflation –

Also Monday, inflation in Germany fell back to 1.4 percent year-on-year in March, 0.3 percentage points lower than in February, statistics authority Destatis said in preliminary data.

Some economists predict sharp swings in inflation data in the coming months, as virus restrictions alter shopping behaviour and a flood of cheap oil unleashed by a Saudi-Russian price war undermines energy prices.

March data for Germany showed “fuel above all got cheaper,” LBBW bank analyst Jens-Oliver Niklasch commented, while there was “accelerated price growth for unprocessed food”.

“The question is of course what inflation data is worth when whole categories of goods, like in the hospitality sector, are practically unavailable,” Niklasch added.

AFP

German Minister Worried By Coronavirus Crisis Commits Suicide

Thomas Schäfer (CDU), Minister of Finance of the State of Hesse, takes part in the plenary session of the Hessian state parliament. Photo: Arne Dedert/dpa

 

Thomas Schaefer, the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, has committed suicide apparently after becoming “deeply worried” over how to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, state premier Volker Bouffier said Sunday.

Schaefer, 54, was found dead near a railway track on Saturday. The Wiesbaden prosecution’s office said they believe he died by suicide.

“We are in shock, we are in disbelief and above all, we are immensely sad,” Bouffier said in a recorded statement.

Hesse is home to Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt, where major lenders like Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank have their headquarters. The European Central Bank is also located in Frankfurt.

A visibly shaken Bouffier recalled that Schaefer, who was  Hesse’s finance chief for 10 years, had been working “day and night” to help companies and workers deal with the economic impact of the pandemic.

“Today we have to assume that he was deeply worried,” said Bouffier, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“It’s precise during this difficult time that we would have needed someone like him,” he added.

Popular and well-respected, Schaefer had long been touted as a possible successor to Bouffier.

Like Bouffier, Schaefer belonged to Merkel’s centre-right CDU party.

He leaves behind a wife and two children.

AFP

COVID-19: German Army Loses 6 Million Masks In Kenya

A medical worker wearing protective gear takes a rest as he waits for ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at an entrance of a hospital in Daegu on February 23, 2020. YONHAP / AFP

 

 

A German army shipment of six million face masks needed to protect against the novel coronavirus has vanished in Kenya, the defence ministry in Berlin confirmed Tuesday.

“We are trying to find out what happened” to the massive order of protective equipment meeting the FFP2 standard for protection against particles and aerosols, a spokeswoman said.

News weekly Der Spiegel had earlier reported that the masks went missing at a Kenyan airport at the end of last week.

It was not immediately clear why the shipment was transiting via the east African country, the spokeswoman said.

The German army’s procurement office — plagued in normal times by equipment shortages and breakdowns — is providing the health ministry with logistical support during the coronavirus crisis.

Due to arrive in Europe’s largest economy on March 20, the missing mask shipment was one of the first major deliveries needed to gird Germany’s health system for its battle against the coronavirus, Spiegel reported.
That makes the loss “more than irritating” for the German health and government workers on the front line of the crisis, Spiegel wrote citing official sources.

According to the Robert Koch Institute disease control authority, the country had 27,436 confirmed virus infections Tuesday — an increase of almost 5,000 over the tally on Monday.

The defence ministry spokeswoman said the German government would not suffer a financial loss on the lost shipment as payment for the masks had been due on delivery.

AFP

Germany Bans Gatherings Of More Than Two Over Coronavirus

A couple walks past a sign directing the public to a new coronavirus COVID-19 testing/assessment centre at a hospital in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district on March 22, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP.

 

Gatherings of more than two people will be banned in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday, as Europe’s biggest economy toughened restrictions to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Germany has already closed down schools, non-essential shops and urged people not to gather in groups but has not yet imposed blanket limits on group gatherings.

“Our own behaviour is the most effective way” of slowing the rate of infection, Merkel said of the unprecedented nationwide measures, which are initially slated to remain in force for two weeks.

The measures will be imposed by individual states, who will decide when to roll them out.

Some exceptions to the public gathering rule will be allowed, including for families living under the same roof and going out together for fresh air.

On top of the ban on gatherings, businesses like massage studios and hairdressers where people come into close contact will be shut.

And restaurants will be closed across Germany except for takeaway food.

READ ALSO: Merkel In Quarantine After Meeting Virus-infected Doctor

Merkel appealed to citizens’ “reason and empathy” in implementing the contact restrictions, saying she had been “very moved” by how closely people had stuck to less stringent measures implemented in recent days.

“That’s how we can save lives,” the chancellor recalled.

“It’s of vital, vital importance to obey the rule” to remain at least two metres away from other people, Merkel said, adding “at that distance the risk of infection is close to zero.”

Asked if she too was respecting the distancing requirements, Merkel said “my life has fundamentally changed and mostly consists of telephone and video conferences”.

Merkel spoke following a telephone conference with the premiers of Germany’s 16 federal states, who have been criticised in recent days for failing to agree on a nationwide set of rules for infection control.

But while several regional leaders said in their own press conferences they would stick to the new rules, news agency DPA reported Bavaria would impose its own, tougher restrictions allowing people to leave the house alone or with one relative.

AFP

Germany Reports First Two Coronavirus Deaths

Germany Map

 

Two people have died of the novel coronavirus in the western German city of Essen and virus hotspot Heinsberg, officials told AFP on Monday, the country’s first casualties of the outbreak.

In Essen, an 89-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with the virus on March 3 died despite medical measures to support her breathing and circulation.

“I regret this death very much,” mayor Thomas Kufen said in a statement, offering his condolences to the woman’s family and friends.

Meanwhile officials in the district of Heinsberg said they would discuss the fatal case there at a 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) press conference.

READ ALSO: Iran Announces 43 New Coronavirus Deaths

Both fatalities occurred in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state along the border with Belgium and the Netherlands.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus on Monday passed 1,000 in Europe’s top economy Germany.

But so far the only German national to die of the disease had been a 60-year-old tourist in Egypt.

Germany has suffered a comparatively light toll in relation to European Union neighbours, namely in hard-hit Italy, where 366 people have died of the virus and there are thousands of confirmed cases.

“Here in Germany we are ahead in diagnostics, in detection,” Christian Drosten, director of the Institute for Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital said earlier Monday in the capital.

“The most effective tool against coronavirus is the time factor, slowing down its spread and spreading it over a longer period of time,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

She also reiterated government advice on measures such as avoiding bodily contact to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

Poland Joins Other Countries, Announces First Coronavirus Case

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. 
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP

 

Poland on Wednesday announced its first case of coronavirus while adding that nearly 70 people were being tested for the disease.

The man, who had visited Germany, is “not part of a risk group” and his life is not in danger, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski told a news conference.

He indicated the man was not elderly, whose lives are at greater risk.

READ ALSO: Iran Rejects US Virus Aid Offer Amid Sanctions

He was hospitalised in the western city of Zielona Gora with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease that has killed more than 3,000 people and infected around 92,000 globally.

Szumowski said the patient had “a relatively little contact” with other people.

Another 68 people are undergoing tests in Polish hospitals to determine whether they are suffering from COVID-19, while around 500 are in quarantine, Szumowski said.

AFP

Three Countries Offer Iran Aid To Combat Spread Of Coronavirus

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on January 22, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran. HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on January 22, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran. HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP

 

Germany, France and Britain said Monday that they would be sending emergency equipment to Iran to fight the coronavirus outbreak as well as giving five million euros in financial aid.

“France, Germany and the United Kingdom express their full solidarity with all impacted by COVID-19 in Iran,” the three countries said in a joint statement, adding that material including laboratory test equipment and protective body suits and gloves would be sent by plane later Monday.

They also committed to providing “urgent additional financial support” of 5.0 million euros ($5.6 million) for Iran, where the new coronavirus has killed 66 people and infected 1,501.

AFP

Interior Minister Rebuffs Angela Merkel’s Handshake Over Coronavirus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) gestures and shares a smile with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (R) after he refused to shake her hand during a summit on integration at the Chancellery in Berlin on March 2, 2020.  AFP

 

Germany’s interior minister rebuffed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to shake hands with him on Monday as the number of novel coronavirus cases in the country rose to 150 with Berlin reporting its first infection.

When Merkel reached out to greet Horst Seehofer at a meeting on migration in Berlin, he smiled and kept both his hands to himself.

They both laughed and Merkel then threw her hand up in the air before taking a seat.

Health experts have recommended avoiding handshakes as a way of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

There are now 150 confirmed cases in Germany, Lothar Weiler of the Robert Koch Institute disease control agency said on Monday morning — up from 129 the previous day.

The alert level has been raised from “low to moderate” to “moderate,” Weiler said, with authorities saying there was no need for drastic measures like border closure to stem the contagion.

The virus has now spread to 10 of Germany’s 16 states, with more than half the confirmed cases in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany’s most populous state emerged as a hotspot after an infected couple attended carnival celebrations there, infecting dozens of people.

Germany has cancelled several major gatherings in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, including this week’s ITB travel trade fair in Berlin.

Health Minister Jens Spahn stressed on Monday that it was too early to say whether further public events would be cancelled.

AFP

Germany’s Coronavirus Cases Jump From 66 To 129

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.   AFP

 

The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in Germany jumped sharply to 129 on Sunday, official data showed, as the interior minister said he expected a vaccine by the end of the year.

The latest tally given by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s centre for disease control and prevention, showed that the number of cases had almost doubled from 66 on Saturday morning.

Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia has emerged as a hotspot after an infected couple attended carnival celebrations there, infecting dozens of people.

The deadly virus has now reached nine of Germany’s 16 states, with Frankfurt, Hamburg and Bremen among the cities reporting their first COVID-19 cases.

Speaking to the mass-daily Bild am Sonntag, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not see a swift end to the virus’s spread but was optimistic a cure could be found.

“I estimate that a vaccine will be available by the end of the year,” he said, adding that he himself had stopped shaking people’s hands.

Asked whether Germany would go so far as to close off access to cities or regions, he said: “such a scenario would be the last resort”.

In Bavaria, machine tool manufacturer DMG Mori asked some 1,600 employees not to come to work on Monday after a worker contracted the virus.

Several hundred people meanwhile were released from quarantine in the district of Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, allowing them to leave their homes again.

The cluster there has been linked to a carnival gathering on February 15.

Four kindergarten children in Heinsberg also tested positive for the new coronavirus at the weekend, apparently contracted through a member of staff.

Germany has cancelled several major gatherings in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, including this week’s ITB travel trade fair in Berlin.

The Michelin Guide restaurant star rating awards slated to take place in Hamburg on Tuesday have also been called off.

Organisers of the Leipzig book fair, however, said the event, which attracted over 280,000 people last year, would go ahead as planned from March 12-15.

As the coronavirus continues to disrupt air travel and supply chains around the world, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the government stood ready to stimulate Germany’s export-driven economy if the impact worsened.

“If the situation calls for it, we have the means to launch a fiscal stimulus package,” he told Die Welt newspaper.

AFP

Court Scraps Ban On Professional Assisted Suicide

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

Germany’s highest court on Wednesday ruled that a 2015 law banning professional assisted suicide was unconstitutional, saying in a landmark decision that people have “the right to a self-determined death”.

The ruling is a major victory for the terminally ill patients, doctors and assisted suicide organisations who brought the case, complaining that the existing law went too far.

Judge Andreas Vosskuhle at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said the right to a self-determined death included “the freedom to take one’s life and seek help doing so”.

The court also surprised observers by explicitly stating that the right to assisted suicide services should not be limited to the seriously or incurably ill.

The freedom to choose one’s death “is guaranteed in all stages of a person’s existence”, the verdict read.

Passed by lawmakers in 2015, the existing law, known as Paragraph 217, was mainly aimed at barring associations dedicated to helping patients wanting to die.

It also meant medical personnel faced prosecution for prescribing life-terminating drugs.

The legal uncertainty worsened when a lower court ruled in 2017 that officials could not refuse lethal medication in extreme cases, creating confusion among doctors.

Wednesday’s verdict was closely watched in a fast-ageing country where Catholic and Protestant Churches still exert strong influence, but polls show growing public support for physician-assisted suicide.

It is also a sensitive subject in Germany as the Nazis used what they euphemistically called “euthanasia” to exterminate around 200,000 disabled people.

– Right to dignity –

At the heart of the debate was the plaintiffs’ argument that Germany’s constitution guarantees personal freedom and dignity, which they said includes the right to choose when and how to die.

The court agreed with their reasoning and found the restrictions imposed by Paragraph 217 made it “impossible” for people to receive help from third party professionals in Germany.

Under Paragraph 217, professionals falling foul of the law risked a fine or up to three years in prison.

This left German patients turning to family members or loved ones for help, some getting life-terminating medicine from abroad.

Judge Vosskuhle said those who wanted to offer suicide assistance must be legally allowed to, without however being forced to do so.

The court stressed however that legislators still had “a broad spectrum” of options to regulate assisted suicide, for instance through mandatory waiting periods or consumer protection standards for assisted suicide associations.

The German government said it would study the court’s verdict “very closely” before deciding the next course of action.

Church representatives reacted with dismay to the annulment of Paragraph 217.

– ‘Pressure’ –

In a joint statement, the German Bishops’ Conference and the Evangelical Church of Germany said they feared elderly or sick people would feel “internal or external pressure” to make use of assisted suicide services.

Judge Vosskuhle acknowledged that the ruling would not please everyone but said the decision of those wishing to end their lives had to be respected.

“We may regret their decision and try everything we can do change their minds but ultimately we must accept their freedom to choose,” he said.

Ahead of the ruling, the German Medical Association had also opposed any relaxing of Paragraph 217, fearing it could open the door to euthanasia, where doctors take an active role in helping a patient die, for instance through lethal injection.

Euthanasia is officially legal in only three European Union countries — the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — but others allow or tolerate a form of assisted suicide.

In non-EU Switzerland, as well as in the US states of Vermont, Oregon and Washington, assisted suicide is legal.

A survey for broadcaster ARD on Tuesday found that 81 percent of Germans believed doctors should be allowed to help severely ill patients with their wish to die, up from 76 percent in 2012.

AFP

PSG Still ‘Dangerous’, Warns Record-Breaker Haaland

 

Teenage record-breaker Erling Braut Haaland warned Borussia Dortmund still have it all to do to reach the Champions League quarter-finals even after his two goals sank Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain.

Haaland netted either side of a Neymar equaliser on Tuesday as the Brazilian superstar scored on his return from injury as the French champions crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Dortmund in the last 16, first leg, tie.

“We want to go through, it’s going to be a hard game,” Haaland said of the return leg in Paris on March 11, “but we are a good team.

“The result is quite a dangerous one, as Paris has a very strong team and can still go through in the return leg.”

Haaland’s team-mate Emre Can, who alongside Axel Witsel worked tirelessly in Dortmund’s midfield to contain Neymar and France striker Kylian Mbappe, said the home side’s defence had been key.

“It was a big statement from the team how we defended today. We know it’s not over — it’s just half-time,” said Can, whose permanent transfer from Juventus was confirmed Tuesday.

However, the night belonged Haaland who has 11 goals in his first seven games for Dortmund and warned there is more to come.

“I feel like I still can do a lot better,” said Haaland.

“I have to work hard to improve to play better at this level.”

Having also scored eight goals for Salzburg in the group stages before his 20 million-euro ($22 million) transfer to Dortmund, Haaland made Champions League history on Tuesday.

His tally of 10 goals in his first seven Champions League matches is now a new record in the competition and makes him the joint top-scorer alongside Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.

The teenage goal-machine has so far scored 39 times in 29 games this season for Salzburg and Dortmund.

The 19-year-old had already sent records tumbling since arriving in Dortmund last month when he became the first player to score a hat-trick off the bench on his Bundesliga debut.

His incredible strike for his second goal on Tuesday overshadowed Neymar’s return from a rib injury with PSG desperate to break their last 16 jinx having exited at this stage in the competition in each of the last three seasons.

‘Important Neymar goal’

Paris defender Marquinhos said Neymar’s away goal could prove crucial in the home leg.

“We weren’t intense enough with or without the ball and did a lot of things badly, however the goal we got is important for the second leg,” he said.

The presence of the world’s most expensive player was a major boost for his team, after Neymar missed last season’s surprise last-16 loss to Manchester United with a foot injury.

He also sat out the second leg of their defeat by Real Madrid at the same stage in 2018.

PSG’s German coach Thomas Tuchel admitted Neymar’s lack of match fitness had been a factor in the away defeat, but said his team still has time to find their form.

“Neymar hadn’t played for a fortnight, but he is very important for Kylian (Mbappe), there is harmony between them and if Neymar lacks rhythm, it’s immediately noticeable,” said Tuchel.

“We didn’t have enough possession, we made too many easy mistakes, we weren’t smart enough and we lost the ball too early.

“It’s difficult, but it’s 2-1 and we still have a few games left to get back into the rhythm.”

His counterpart Lucien Favre echoed Haaland’s insistence that the result gives Dortmund only a slender advantage with PSG’s passionate home fans set to get behind their team in the return leg.

“Of course it’s a dangerous result, but we played well in both defence and attack,” said Dortmund’s Swiss coach.

“However, as things stand it’s 2-1 to us.”

Coronavirus: Foreigners Fleeing China Arrive Germany

German Air Force Airbus A310 "Kurt Schumacher" lands at Frankfurt am Main's airport, western Germany, with on board German citizens who have been evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak on February 1, 2020. Thomas Lohnes / AFP
German Air Force Airbus A310 “Kurt Schumacher” lands at Frankfurt am Main’s airport, western Germany, with on board German citizens who have been evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak on February 1, 2020. Thomas Lohnes / AFP

 

A plane carrying German and foreign nationals evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, landed in Germany on Saturday, an AFP reporter said.

The plane carrying 102 German citizens and 26 foreign nationals landed at Frankfurt Airport around 1540 GMT after being delayed when Russia refused to let it land and refuel.

The Moscow airport claimed it had a “lack of capacity” and the Airbus A310 jet was forced to stop in Helsinki instead.

The passengers will be examined for symptoms of the virus, which has killed 259 people in China so far, at a specially equipped facility at the airport in Frankfurt.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said on Saturday that none of the passengers had shown any such symptoms.

Those who are cleared will then be quarantined for two weeks at a military base in Germersheim, near Stuttgart.

Germany now has seven confirmed cases of the virus, including the first of human-to-human transmission on European soil.

The patients are all in the southern Bavaria region and comprise of six employees of car parts supplier Webasto and a daughter of one of the workers.

All are in “a very good state of health”, Spahn said.

“What worries me are conspiracy theories that spread uncertainty,” he added, saying that there were reports that the children of Webasto employees were being turned away from daycare in Germany.

The Wuhan metropolis is at the heart of the SARS-like virus epidemic that has led the World Health Organization to declare it an international public health emergency.

The city of 11 million has been subject to an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop the virus from spreading further.

Numerous countries, including France, Britain, Japan and South Korea, have already begun airlifting their citizens out of Wuhan.

In Germany’s Palatinate region where the evacuees will be quarantined some locals had managed to maintain a sense of humour about the affair.

“We have survived the French, we have survived the hippies (a reference to a famous 1972 rock festival) — a virus from China is not going to immediately kill us,” said a 72-year-old local, quoted by the DPA news agency.

AFP