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PHARMACY

Demand for plexiglass coronavirus shields spikes in Germany

Touted as a simple but effective shield against coronavirus infections, transparent screens have sprung up at supermarket tills and pharmacies across Germany.

Demand for plexiglass coronavirus shields spikes in Germany
A plexiglass shield at a pharmacy in Dortmund. Photo: DPA

For plexiglass manufacturer Claus Müller, business has never been better – but no one is celebrating.

The Plexiglas Riesner processing plant in Wiesbaden is abuzz with activity as owner Müller and his workers race to get out the next batch of orders, cutting and bending acrylic sheets to size while the phone rings off the hook.

It's the busiest time in the small company's 114-year history, with requests coming in faster than the supply chain can handle.

“We have endless work but the reason is very sad, so we can't be euphoric about it,” Mueller tells AFP.

READ ALSO: Why people in Germany don't need to panic buy during the coronavirus pandemic

Demand for “sneeze guards” has surged as companies scramble to protect employees from a deadly virus that is transmitted through droplets from an infected person's mouth or nose, putting at risk those whose jobs don't allow them to keep the recommended two-metre (six-foot) distance.

“It's the sensible thing to do if close contact can't be avoided,” says Müller.

In the space of mere weeks, German shoppers have become used to the sight of plexiglass barriers separating them from cashiers in grocery stores, among the few retailers that remain open.

Elsewhere too, supermarket chains are opting for the relatively affordable and easy to install screens, from Carrefour in France to Walmart in the United States.

Müller says his sales have doubled in March compared with pre-virus times, boosted by business from hospitals, pharmacies, hotels, banks, and doctors' offices.

The company is also working on a large order destined for local Aldi supermarkets, with the jovial Müller regularly rolling up his sleeves to pitch in with the three employees on the workshop floor.

A shield next to a cashier at a supermarket in Göppingen, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Running low

But he is fast running out of stock, and estimates he only has enough to keep going for another week or two.

“It seems the whole market in Germany is coming to a standstill,” Müller says.

While plexiglass is often used as shorthand for any acrylic sheets, Müller points out that the high-quality Plexiglas (spelled with a single “s”) that he mostly works with is a registered trademark.

And his Plexiglas wholesaler has warned that deliveries of raw materials are grinding to a halt as the virus disrupts global production lines, with many factories shutting down or putting workers on reduced hours.

“We're not expecting new deliveries until early May,” Müller says.

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

April will likely be spent filling regular orders for long-time industrial customers.

“After earning double in one month, the pressure is off and we can get by for a bit,” Müller says, declining to give numbers.

“We won't go bust, unlike many other companies,” he sighs, expressing concern for a friend whose snack bar has been hit hard by Germany's lockdown measures.

According to research firm 360 Market Updates, the global market for acrylic sheets was worth $5.3 billion (€4.8 billion) in 2019 and is forecast to grow to $7.1 billion by 2024.

'Feel safer'

The Plexiglas Riesner company started out as a family glass-cutting business before founder Karl Riesner's son switched to cheaper and easier to manipulate plexiglass in 1957.

Müller took over the firm in 2004 after stumbling across it on a government website that connects entrepreneurs with small and medium-size “Mittelstand” companies, considered the backbone of Europe's top economy, in need of successors.

“I ran the numbers and knew I could make it work,” he recalls.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Hamsterkauf

 

Looking past the coronavirus crisis, Müller expects demand for plexiglass from food retailers will drop off, and predicts that many will eventually remove the screens.

But he can see plexiglass becoming a fixture in pharmacies and doctors' reception areas.

One of his customers, pharmacist Iris Erdelmeier, says she feels more comfortable working behind the plastic safeguard while the pandemic rages, with plexiglass dividers installed at all three of her pharmacy's tills.

“We feel much safer with the protective screens. They also protect our patients in case we ourselves were to be infected without showing symptoms,” she says.

“Customers have actually told us they like the screens, and have suggested we keep them permanently.”

By Yann Schreiber and Michelle Fitzpatrick in Frankfurt

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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