German retailers support face masks, fear new lockdown

FILE PHOTO: Managing Director of the Handelsverband Deutschland Stefan Genth attends a news conference in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: Managing Director of the Handelsverband Deutschland Stefan Genthr attends a news conference addressing the impact on supplies due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Berlin, Germany, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/Pool/File Photo

July 14, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) -German retailers still support the wearing of face masks in stores as they worry about another wave of the coronavirus pandemic possibly leading to new restrictions, an industry association said on Wednesday.

“We must do everything possible so we don’t get another lockdown,” Stefan Genth, managing director of the German association of retailers (HDE) told a news briefing.

Asked for his reaction to the decision by the German state of Saxony to lift the obligation to wear masks in stores, Genth said: “We warn against giving up such things too early.”

Germany reported 1,548 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, 563 more than a week ago, to bring the total to 3.74 million. The death toll rose by 28 to 91,287.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Tuesday that more people needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before restrictions could be lifted, following news that England will scrap nearly all curbs from next week.

German retailers expect to record a 1.5% rise in sales in 2021, assuming no further lockdowns, the HDE forecast on Wednesday, driven by a 3.1% increase in food sales, while the rest of the sector is set to record a 4.2% decline.

Fashion stores have been particularly hard hit, with sales still expected to be down 37% in 2021 compared to 2019 before the pandemic hit.

“Spending is bouncing back but shopper traffic in the inner cities is not back to pre-crisis levels,” Genth said.

Online sales are expected to rise by around 20% this year to just over 87 billion euros ($103 billion), the HDE said, up from a previous forecast for 17% growth.

HDE said three quarters of retail companies in Germany reported lower revenue in the first half of the year due to lockdowns.

“The crisis is not over yet, the situation is still very difficult for many retailers,” Genth said.

($1 = 0.8481 euros)

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, editing by Emma Thomasson, Maria Sheahan, William Maclean)