Governments around the world have stepped up restrictions on the movement of their citizens to reduce the spread of Covid-19, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has infected over 780,000 and killed more than 37,000 people globally. 

As of March 31, more than 67,000 cases were confirmed in Germany, but the number of deaths has been lower than in Italy, Spain or France. Is the German health system better or are German residents more respectful of each other and more united in the fight against the disease? 

On March 16, Germany’s federal government and its federal states adopted guidelines on a uniform approach to the corona pandemic. There will be massive cuts in public events. All retail stores selling non-essential items will stay closed until at least April 19. They are also closed in Austria and Switzerland until further notice, but the operators of optical retail stores are allowed to keep them open in Germany and Switzerland if they want to. 

ZVA, the German opticians’ association, conducted a survey sometime last week among its members and received more than 1,400 responses. Some 95 percent stated that their stores are still open. About 12 percent did not cut back their opening hours, while roughly 42 percent reduced their opening hours and 30 percent switched their stores to emergency care by appointment. 

More recently, Spectaris, the German optical industry association, told us that it is very hard to make a clear statement on the number of opticians that have their stores still open. Spectaris estimates that roughly half of all German opticians have kept their stores open. However, there are almost no customers in the stores. They do not even come to the stores to pick up their ordered goods, it noted. 

Germany is permitting opticians in all of its federal states to keep their stores open. The decision lies solely with the business owner, with information and advice available from the offices of the regional guilds and regional guild associations. 

Opticians in Switzerland and Austria may also keep their stores open, because they are included in the exception for health services. The Swiss Senate ordered a nationwide lockdown for most other types of physical stores on March 16, making it last until April 19. 

Online retailers go off offline, make donations 

There have been some exceptions, however. Saying that it wants to protect customers and employees alike, Mister Spex decided to close its 21 physical stores in Germany from March 23 and has postponed the opening of new ones. The company is in a particular situation because its omni-channel strategy, under which its physical stores are connected with its older website. In fact, the company’s online store is staying open with all its services. 

To ensure emergency care for acute vision problems, Mister Spex has made customer service available to system-relevant professionals making a decisive contribution to basic care and crisis management, such as doctors and nurses, police, fire brigades and employees of the transport or traffic system. 

Edel Optics, which claims to be one of the three largest online retailers of glasses in Europe and the second-largest in Germany, decided to convert its physical stores to emergency care from March 23 to April 19. Consultations, sales and other services will take place as usual, but opening hours will be restricted and no more than five people may be in the store at any time. The company’s online store remains open. Most of Edel Optic’s employees already work from home, while the warehouse and workshop are managed on a strict shift system to keep the risk of infection as low as possible. 

Meanwhile, Einstoffen, a young Swiss eyewear and fashion brand, has decided to donate 50 percent of the revenue from each pair of sunglasses sold online to opticians in the paying customer’s community. If there are several opticians, the donation will be split between them. Corrective frames are still available exclusively in specialist stores, but the company hopes the campaign will stem the loss of customers during the corona crisis. 

A German producer, Emmerich Eyewear, has launched a similar campaign to support its partner opticians. From March 21 to April 19, 25 percent of the revenues from sunglasses purchased by end consumers will be donated to partner companies that are closed in the region. Such companies must carry eyewear from Emmerich’s two private brands, J.Athletics and Maison Mollerus. If several opticians in the respective zip codes or areas offer versions of the glasses ordered online, the proceeds will be shared between them. 

Alcon, the contact lens manufacturer, has developed a new online ordering platform, called “easy online.” Brick-and-mortar specialist retailers can send contact lenses and lens care products directly to the consumer via the new order platform. The products are calculated as usual under the conditions of the respective opticians. For direct delivery, opticians place the desired products in the shopping cart for their customer and then follow brief instructions. 

To help opticians overcome the crisis, Rodenstock has sought to answer questions like “What happens to my business during and after the corona crisis – and how can I take sensible steps now?” The company has set up free webinars for its customers. Running on April 1 to 27, the webinars should provide answers to technical and operational questions, and include ideas to compensate for the drop in sales over the following months. 

Rupp + Hubrach, the supplier of lenses made in Germany owned by Essilor, reports that it is providing unbureaucratic support for the industry. Its eyeglass lenses can be ordered easily by phone, fax or email, and the R + H service team is available to provide advice and assistance for all questions about products and phone orders. Processing is also simple. Opticians can name the lens of their usual supplier or fax the glass order on the supplier’s original form, and R + H will produce a comparable lens from its range. 

Strong state aid has been promised 

Spectaris said it is still too early to comment on the support programs being given by the suppliers, as everyone is currently struggling. They are trying to adapt their own processes. And since no one knows how long the confinement will last, almost everyone has extreme worries about the future. According to Spectaris, many in the industry are already thinking about how the industry and most of its players will be saved – partly through solidarity programs. 

The German government has just finished assembling a vast aid package to support families, tenants, employees, freelancers and companies. The federal cabinet, run by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, agreed last week to a vast package of protective measures and far-reaching changes to the legal code. The Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, approved the package last Wednesday, with the Bundesrat, the German deliberative body representing the country’s 16 federal states, following last Friday. 

Massive amounts of money are being made available by the government. After six years of taking on no new debt, the country’s commitment to a balanced budget is being abandoned, with the cabinet approving a supplementary budget calling for €156 billion in new borrowings. Germany’s parliament enabled an emergency amendment to the country’s “debt brake” laws this Wednesday. 

Small companies and individual entrepreneurs will be eligible for up to €15,000 in direct subsidies over a period of three months. A total of €50 billion has been earmarked for this program. Larger companies are to be stabilized with capital from a special fund. In cases of need, the state will also be allowed to become a stakeholder in companies. Plans call for up to €400 billion in credit guarantees. Up to €100 billion has been allocated for possible direct investments in companies. 

In addition, an unlimited special credit program from the state-owned development bank, KfW, was launched on Monday. The bank has also earmarked €100 billion for liquidity assistance. An additional measure prevents landlords from evicting tenants if they can no longer pay their rent due to the corona crisis. Expanded regulations pertaining to Germany’s part-time work program – under which the government pays a share of the employees’ salaries if they are temporarily unnecessary for production – will make it easier for companies to hold on to workers instead of laying them off for good. The entire package is worth some €750 billion.