German jobless total spikes in April due to coronavirus

The jobless total in Germany leaped by 13.2 percent in a single month to more than 2.6 million in April, official data showed Thursday, highlighting the coronavirus pandemic's impact on Europe's top economy.

German jobless total spikes in April due to coronavirus
A sign in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein on Tuesday, which reads 'Currently closed'. Photo: DPA

In seasonally adjusted terms, the unemployment rate jumped from 5.0 percent to 5.8 percent, the BA federal labour agency said, while some 750,000 companies applied to place 10.1 million workers on government-funded shorter hours schemes.

The jobless total soared to 2.6 million in April from 2.3 million in March, according to data compiled by the federal labour agency BA.

And in seasonally adjusted terms, the unemployment rate jumped to 5.8 percent this month from 5.0 percent the previous month, the agency said.

“The coronavirus pandemic will likely lead to the most serious recession in Germany of the post-World War II period,” BA chief Detlef Scheele said in a statement. “The labour market is also coming under pressure.”

READ ALSO: Germany braces for 'worst recession' in post-war history

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Wednesday unveiled government projections of a record 6.3-percent year-on-year drop in gross domestic product.

On top of April's increase in the jobless count, some 750,000 companies applied to place 10.1 million workers on government-funded shorter hours schemes, the BA said Thursday.

Known in German as “Kurzarbeit” and credited with saving hundreds of thousands of jobs during the 2009 financial crisis, Berlin widened access to the programme as the scale of the coronavirus threat became clear.

Applications for the scheme do not mean that workers will in fact be placed on shorter hours.

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

“Nevertheless, this is a never-before-seen figure compared with recent decades, and a multiple of the notifications seen during the great recession in 2008-09,” the BA said.

Over the whole worst year of the crisis in 2009, firms made shorter-hours applications for just 3.3 million workers.

Meanwhile the number of open positions registered by the BA “downright collapsed,” Scheele said, dropping by 169,000 to 626,000.

Germany, with its ageing demographic, has in recent years been plagued by labour shortages far more than by unemployment.

To help cushion the coronavirus blow for companies and workers, the German government has unveiled a massive rescue package worth over €1 trillion euros.

It includes state-backed loan guarantees, direct cash injections and schemes to put workers on reduced hours to avoid layoffs.

It includes a €40 billion aid package for freelancers and small businesses of up to 10 employees who are affected by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Such measures are intended to preserve economic structures, in hopes of fostering a post-lockdown rebound that minister Altmaier said Wednesday could bring 5.2 percent growth in 2021.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.