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German airline giant Lufthansa puts 87,000 workers on reduced hours

Lufthansa said Thursday it has placed 87,000 workers – more than 60 percent of its workforce – on government-backed shorter hours schemes, as air travel idles amid the coronavirus crisis.

German airline giant Lufthansa puts 87,000 workers on reduced hours
Archive photo shows Lufthansa aircrafts in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Among the group's 135,000 employees, cabin crew, ground crew and, for the first time ever, pilots are all affected by the measure, a spokesman told AFP.

Some 62,000 of the employees affected are in Germany, which doubled the number given on Friday of those would work shorter hours until September.

In addition to the flagship German brand Lufthansa and low-cost arm Eurowings, the group includes smaller carriers such as Austrian, Brussels Airlines and Swiss.

Around 700 of Lufthansa's 763 aircraft are parked following huge reductions in its flight operations, and its seat capacity is just five percent of its usual schedule until at least April 19th.

Chief executive Carsten Spohr last month warned that “the longer this crisis lasts, the more likely it is that the future of aviation cannot be guaranteed without state aid.”

READ ALSO: Lufthansa puts 31,000 workers on shorter hours until September

The group's flight plan has been slashed to levels not seen since the 1950s, Spohr said.

Around the world, the International Air Transport Association has said up to $200 billion might be needed to rescue airlines.

Kurzarbeit

Known in German as “Kurzarbeit”, the government's support for people placed on shorter hours tops up workers' pay from government coffers.

The scheme is widely credited with preserving thousands of jobs during the financial crisis in the late 2000s, and other countries like Britain and France have adopted the measure in the coronavirus fight.

Berlin extended access to the scheme as the virus hit Europe's top economy, allowing companies to apply for support when a threshold of 10 percent of workers is affected, rather than 33 percent previously.

READ ALSO: Kurzarbeit – Germany bets on tried-and-tested tool for coronavirus jobs crisis

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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