On Tuesday, German Economic Minister Peter Altmaier dashed hopes of business lobby groups for a quick reopening of the economy, saying the country should not rush to ease coronavirus restrictions as this could risk another wave of infections.
“Business can’t flourish if we get a third wave of infections,” Mr. Altmaier told German television before a virtual meeting with representatives of 40 industry associations.
The minister said he recognized that many businesses were desperate for a prospect of an end to the current lockdown but added that Germany was proceeding with caution for fear of new coronavirus variants in neighboring countries.
After the meeting, Mr. Altmaier told reporters he would work closely together with business associations in the coming days on a proposal to set out which sectors should be allowed to re-open and under what conditions.
The proposals would be presented ahead of the next meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state premiers when a decision is also expected on how to proceed with the current lockdown, which had been extended until March 7.
Mr. Altmaier also said large companies from now on should be allowed to apply for coronavirus emergency grants, adding the government had decided to lift a cap that has excluded firms with annual sales of more than 750,000 euros.
Separately, government sources said a coronavirus hardship fund for artists and other freelancers, mainly in the entertainment industry, totals some 2 billion euros.
One government official said the federal government would shoulder at least 1 billion euros. Talks were still underway with state governments, which would co-finance the fund.
Ms. Merkel and state premiers agreed last week that hairdressers should be allowed to open from March 1 while other services and retailers must wait at least until March 7. Factories, offices, and supermarkets have remained open during the lockdown.
Ms. Merkel and state premiers also agreed to tighten the threshold for a gradual re-opening of the economy, targeting an infection rate of under 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days, down from 50 previously.
The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling in recent weeks, down to 3,856 on Tuesday, or a national incidence of 59 cases per 100,000.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier announced a slew of planned improvements to Germany’s shutdown that would support businesses and self-employed people following a consultation with more than 40 business associations on Tuesday.
The minister, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), revealed plans for a one-off payment of €7,500 ($9,080) to self-employed workers who have been hit hard by the pandemic shutdown.
He also said a “hardship fund” would ease some of the problems that certain businesses have had in accessing government financial support. Large companies with revenues of over €750 million would also be able to request interim aid.
When different economy branches can reopen, a schedule would be discussed at the beginning of March at the next pandemic-related meeting between Germany’s federal and state governments, Altmaier promised.