With the increase in COVID cases, European Christmas markets open cautiously

Frankfurt, Germany (Associated Press)-On the main square of this central German city, the Christmas tree towers high, chestnuts and sugared almonds are roasted, and the children are climbing on the merry-go-round as before. Pandemic. But one Coronavirus infections surge It left an uneasy feeling to Frankfurt’s Christmas market.

To taste a glass of mulled wine—a pleasant winter ritual before the pandemic—masked customers must pass through a one-way entrance, enter a fenced wine house, and stop at the hand sanitizer station. Elsewhere, security personnel check vaccination certificates before sending customers to steaming sausages and kebabs.

Despite the inconvenience caused by the pandemic, stall owners selling decorations, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed goods in Frankfurt and other European cities are pleased that the first Christmas market in two years is fully opened, especially the new Restrictions take effect In Germany, Austria and other countries COVID-19 infection A record high. Merchants that have opened hope to get at least a small portion of their pre-pandemic holiday sales, which can make or break their business.

Others are not so lucky. In Germany and Austria, many famous festivals have been cancelled. As the market closes, tourists will spend less money on restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Jens Knauer makes intricate Christmas-themed silhouettes that people can hang on windows. He said his hope is that the Frankfurt market “keep open for as long as possible.”

Although Christmas is 40% of the annual income of many retailers and restaurant owners, “for me, it is 100%,” Knauer said. “If I can stay open for three weeks, I can survive this year.”

After the sudden closure of other Christmas markets in Bavaria, Germany, suppliers were in a state of tension, including Nuremberg, one of the largest and most famous markets. When the authorities in the eastern region of Saxony suddenly imposed new restrictions amid the surge in the number of infected people, exhibitors in Dresden had to pack their bags and were stunned. The Austrian market was closed after a 10-day lockdown started on Monday, and many stall owners hope that they can reopen if it is not extended.

The market usually attracts crowds of people, lined up of decorations and food sellers, and the flow of people will overflow into the income of surrounding hotels and restaurants. This year, the crowd in the Frankfurt market has been greatly reduced, and the stalls are distributed in a larger area.

Heiner Roie runs a barrel-shaped mulled wine cabin, and he said he assumes he will see half of his business in 2019. The work stoppage will cause “huge economic losses-it may lead to complete bankruptcy because we have no” two years without any income, and at some point, the financial reserves will be exhausted. “

But if people have a little discipline and observe hygiene measures, “I think we will manage it,” he said.

Next door, guests of Bettina Roie will see a sign asking them to show a vaccination certificate at her booth, which serves Swiss cheese, a popular melted cheese dish.

She said that the market “has a good concept, because what we need is space, space to maintain the distance between each other.” “Compared with physical restaurants, they have their own buildings and walls, but we can adjust ourselves according to the situation.”

The expanded Roie family is a fifth-generation exhibitor and also operates a carousel at Frankfurt’s central Roemerberg square, where the market opens on Monday.

Roy said that reopening is important, “So that even during the pandemic, we can bring people a little happiness-this is what we did, and we bring happiness back.”

The latest surge in COVID-19 cases has destabilized the prospects for economic recovery in Europe, causing some economists to hedge their growth expectations for the final months of this year.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, has lowered his forecast for the last three months of this year for the 19 countries that use the euro from 0.7% to 0.5%. But he pointed out that the wave of infections has less impact on the economy as a whole, because vaccination has reduced serious diseases and many companies have learned to adjust.

This is a cold comfort to the German DEHOGA Restaurant and Hotel Association, which warned of “cancelling hail” and stated that members reported that every other Christmas party or other special event would be cancelled.

Other European countries with less severe epidemics are returning to their old ways. The traditional Christmas market in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor in the center of the Spanish capital is scheduled to open on Friday on a pre-pandemic scale.

In a country where 89% of people 12 years of age or older are vaccinated, there will be 104 stalls with nativity statues, decorations and traditional sweets. Last year, its number of booths was reduced by half and restricted the number of people in the square. Organizers said that wearing masks and maintaining social distancing will still be mandatory.

In Budapest, the capital of Hungary, the Christmas market has been fenced off, and visitors must present a vaccination certificate to enter.

Gyorgy Nagy, a producer and seller of handmade glazed pottery, said these restrictions initially caused concerns about the decline in shoppers. But so far, business has been very good.

“I don’t think the fence is bad,” he said. “In the beginning, we were scared, really scared, but I thought it was good. … I don’t think it would be a disadvantage.”

The opening of the market reflects Hungary’s wider easing restrictions, even though new COVID-19 cases have exceeded the peak during the devastating surge last spring. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of confirmed infections last week has exceeded that in other weeks.

A representative of the Advent Bazilika Christmas Market said that many of its measures exceeded government requirements, including all suppliers wearing masks and people selling food and beverages must be vaccinated.

Bea Lakatos, a seller of soaps and oils in the Budapest market, said that although sales have been weaker than before the pandemic, “given the restrictions, I did not expect that there will be so many foreign tourists.”

“I think it’s pretty good so far,” she said this week. “The weekend started to be particularly strong.”

In Vienna, the market was crowded with people last weekend as people sought Christmas cheers before the Austrian blockade. Merchants said that last year’s closure and new restrictions have had disastrous consequences.

“The main sales throughout the year are in the Christmas market-this kind of pause is a huge economic loss,” said Laura Brechmann, who sold glowing stars on the Spittelberg market before the lockdown began. “We hope things will reopen, but I personally don’t really expect it.”

In the Salzkammergut region of Austria, where there are ski resorts and the picturesque town of Hallstatt, the tourism industry hopes that the national blockade will not be extended beyond December 13, and some much-needed ones can be restored income.

During this period alone, the extended blockade last winter caused the Tourism Board to lose 1 million euros ($1.12 million) in night tourism taxes alone—not to mention the huge economic losses suffered by hotels, restaurants, and ski resorts.

Christian Schirlbauer, head of tourism in the Dachstein-Salzkammergut region, said: “In general, I do think that if we reopen before Christmas, we can save the winter.” “But it will depend on whether the number of cases drops.”

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Emily Schultheis reported from Vienna, and Justin Spike from Budapest, Hungary. Aritz Parra contributed to this report in Madrid.

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