Germans to wear masks in shops as pandemic’s economic toll mounts

European countries are working to find a balance in how far to ease coronavirus lockdowns, with Germany enforcing mandatory masks in all shops from Wednesday, as the crushing global economic cost of the pandemic becomes clearer.

Excitement over moves towards normality is being tempered by fear of fresh outbreaks of a disease that has already killed 214,000 people worldwide.

Even a gradual return to everyday activity is “risky”, warned French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, despite a downward trend in virus deaths in hard-hit European countries.

From Wednesday in Germany, masks will be needed to enter shops, which began to open last week after the government declared the outbreak under control.

Nose and mouth coverings are already compulsory on buses, trains and trams.

“We all need to take care that we don’t end up with more infections,” said Lothar Wieler, president of Berlin’s Robert Koch Institute.

Forecasts warn of the worst global recession in a century, with demand for goods gutted, and travel and tourism hammered.

British Airways became the latest airline to sound the alarm, saying it may have to cut its workforce by a third, while big banks are reporting deep falls in quarterly profit.

In Lebanon there were more immediate signs of economic crisis, with protesters confronting soldiers in defiance of a nationwide lockdown, complaining they could no longer feed their families.

And with warnings mounting of a meat shortage in the US, the White House said President Donald Trump would sign an executive order compelling meat-packing plants to stay open, despite a string of coronavirus deaths in the industry.