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Criticism on jumble of rules: Stores open again after forced closures

Criticism on jumble of rules : Stores open again after forced closures

Starting this Monday, small and medium-sized shops will be allowed to open their doors for shopping again - but different regulations apply in the different German states. Cities do not expect a run on the city centers when they reopen.

Retail chains, shops and booksellers are ready to go: After weeks of a forced hiatus during the corona crisis, an easing of restrictions comes on Monday.

Small and medium-sized shops will be allowed to open again for the first time since the ordered closure. But stores with a retail space of more than 800 square meters are not allowed to open. Car dealerships, bicycle shops and bookstores are permitted to open regardless of their size.

Following the closures, which have been in effect for a good month, consumers will not be able to go to the shops right away in all German states, however. In Bavaria, Berlin, Thuringia and Brandenburg, stores will not open for shopping until later. And the shopping experience will have changed in many places: As is already the case in supermarkets, protective masks, distance markings, and controlled access will be commonplace when shopping at clothing or book stores as well. In some cases, masks will be compulsory. It’s meant to reduce the risk of infection and regulate the flow of customers. The “Deutscher Städtetag”, an organization that represents the interests of cities and towns across Germany, does not expect big crowds at first in city centers and shops.

The federal and state governments agreed last Wednesday to begin easing restrictions that had been put in place to contain the pandemic. But a uniform nationwide strategy in the fight against the virus is not in sight. Ultimately, it will be up to the individual states to decide how to implement the easing of restrictions in concrete terms. Critics describe it as a patchwork quilt.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Lower Saxony, for example, larger shops are also allowed to open if they limit the sales area to 800 square meters (8,600 square feet). It’s the same in Hesse. In Brandenburg, shops with up to 800 square meters of floor space are also allowed to open if they are located in shopping centers. In Saxony, the use of masks is compulsory when shopping - as is also the case when using public transport there. Saxony is the first German state with such a regulation.

The Federal Minister of Economics, Peter Altmaier, called on the federal and state governments to be more united in their approach. At the same time, he defended the decision to initially only allow shops with a maximum retail area of 800 square meters to open. Smaller shops have fewer reserves and for them it is much more difficult to "keep their heads above water”.

This size limit has resulted in appeals being filed, for example by the ailing department store chain Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof. Higher Administrative Courts (OVG) in Berlin and Greifswald rejected the appeal. The court in Berlin-Brandenburg called the closure proportionate with regard to the protection of the health of the population. In another proceeding in which Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof defended itself against the stipulations imposed by the city of Bielefeld, the court restricted the powers of the city.

The “Deutscher Städtetag” welcomed the easing of restrictions. "People need vibrant inner cities. If more shops in the retail sector open up again now, it will do everyone good: the people who want to shop, the retailers, their employees and the cities," said chief executive Helmut Dedy to the German Press Agency (dpa). But the organization also expects customers to be cautious about going out again. The assumption is that people will gladly use the opportunity to shop again but a big surge is not expected, according to Dedy.

Further criticism comes from trade associations. The criterion of 800 square meters of sales area was arbitrarily chosen, Ludwig Veltmann, chief executive of the association of medium-sized businesses, told the German Press Agency. Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann defended the size specification. According to the law, retail businesses with more than 800 square meters are considered large.

Michael Theurer, deputy leader of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, criticized the 800 square meter limit as arbitrary, "just like the stipulation as to which types of business may reopen". What is needed are comprehensible rules - for example, regarding hygiene, distance or contact restrictions. In the "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung", the CDU economic council also insisted on doing away with size specifications for sales areas and making openings based solely on compliance with hygiene and other protective measures.

Orig. text: dpa

Translation: ck