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FARMING

Germany to let in foreign farm workers after alarm over coronavirus border closures

The German government reached an agreement Thursday to allow urgently needed foreign seasonal workers to enter the country to help with fruit and vegetable harvests, after borders slammed shut to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany to let in foreign farm workers after alarm over coronavirus border closures
A harvest worker helps pick strawberries in Groppendorf, Saxony-Anhalt, in May 2019. Photo: DPA

Around 40,000 foreign workers will be allowed to come and work in Germany in April and May, agriculture minister Julia Klöckner said in Berlin, calling the move “important and good news for our farmers”.

Farmers across Germany had been sounding the alarm after the government last week barred entry to seasonal workers from abroad as part of measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

READ ALSO: Germany bans foreign farm workers over coronavirus

 

Around 300,000 seasonal workers come to Germany each year, mainly from Poland and Romania, to help with harvesting crops such as asparagus and strawberries.

Both are beloved crops in Germany. During Spargelzeit (asparagus season), the crop typically appears en masse at supermarkets and weekly markets, and has restaurant menus devoted to it.

Around the same time, strawberry trucks and kiosks show up even in the middle of Germany's cities to sell the sweet crop. 

A seasonal worker helps with the asparagus harvest in Weiterstadt, Hesse on March 20th, 2019. Photo: DPA

Under the new deal, workers will have to travel by plane and employers will be required to carry out health checks when they arrive.

New arrivals will also have to live and work separately from other workers for 14 days and will not be permitted to leave the company premises.

Social distancing will be maintained during the work, and where this is not possible masks and gloves must be worn.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the government had found “a way to reconcile the health protection of the population and the securing of harvests”.

The government has also announced measures to ease red tape around the hiring of new workers in the sector, and to allow workers that are available to work for longer.

READ ALSO: Spargelzeit: German farmers raise alarm as coronavirus border closures impact seasonal workers

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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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