US military exchanges, commissaries to stay open despite new German coronavirus restrictions
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 15, 2020
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This story has been updated.
STUTTGART, Germany — Shopping malls and other facilities at U.S. military bases in Germany will remain open in the coming weeks, even as many host nation retailers are forced to shut their doors starting Wednesday when tougher coronavirus rules take effect, officials said.
While Germany has ordered a raft of small businesses to close, including retailers that sell nonessential goods like clothing or toys, to try to bring down the high number of coronavirus infections in the country, Army exchanges in Stuttgart — home to U.S. European and Africa Commands — and Bavaria will continue to operate, as will the exchange at Ramstein Air Base in Rheinland-Pfalz, officials said.
“All garrison-provided services that are currently open will remain open with our COVID mitigation strategies in place,” USAG Stuttgart commander Col. Jason Condrey said in a statement Monday.
That includes on-base fitness centers and shopettes, the statement said. German gyms were ordered to close in early November, but supermarkets, like base shopettes, are exempt from the closure order because they sell food and other products that are deemed essential.
The Army in Bavaria will also keep its post exchanges and commissaries open, garrison commander Col. Christopher Danbeck said in a video message posted on Facebook.
“These are our Alamo,” Danbeck said. “The facilities remain open as they provide essential supplies to our community.
“Please don’t panic buy. The supply chain is moving normally and much better than it was during the spring. Please don’t buy all the toilet paper,” he said.
At Ramstein Air Base, the mall at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center, which includes the base exchange, will remain open but fewer customers will be allowed in, business hours will be reduced, and some stores and services, including barbershops and beauty salons, will be closed altogether, base officials said Tuesday on Facebook.
German vendors who operate barber and beauty salons at Army bases in Stuttgart and Bavaria will also be shut, Condrey and Danbeck said in their video messages.
Home-based businesses must also close because they operate under German business rules, Danbeck noted.
While people with base access can continue to shop at the exchanges and commissaries for now, they have to abide by overnight curfews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Stuttgart is based, and in Bavaria, Army officials said.
Residents must remain at home unless they have a compelling reason to go out between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., such as for work, to seek medical care, walk pets or attend family gatherings between December 24-26, USAG Stuttgart said on its website.
They must also have a good reason to leave their homes during the day, such as shopping for essential items, attending religious services, or exercising outdoors. Gatherings of up to five people, not counting children 14 or younger, from a maximum of two households are also allowed during the day, the garrison said on its website.
The curfew in Bavaria starts an hour later than in Baden-Wuertemberg, Danbeck said, and applies to members of the military community living on and off base.
Restrictions also apply during the day, he said. “You should stay at home as much as possible and generally only go out for essential reasons,” including for work, to shop for food and essential supplies, or for medical and veterinary appointments.
“Much like back in March, this is a lockdown,” Danbeck said.
The leaders of Germany’s 16 states and the federal government on Sunday said only grocery stores, health food stores, pharmacies, shops that sell specialty goods for babies, pet supply stores, gas stations, bicycle and car workshops, and banks can remain open to the public as of Wednesday, when new coronavirus restrictions take effect. Christmas tree sellers will also be allowed to stay open.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the government was forced to impose the tougher restrictions after November’s “lockdown light” — which restricted restaurants and bars to takeout only, banned large gatherings, shuttered entertainment and recreation facilities including cinemas and gyms, barred overnight hotel stays for leisure purposes, but allowed retailers to remain open — failed to stop the spread of the virus.
Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 14,432 new coronavirus infections and 500 deaths from the illness caused by the virus Tuesday compared to the day before. The total number of cases in the country was at 1,351, 510, of which 22,475 have died since the start of the outbreak in March, data posted on RKI’s website show.
Stars and Stripes reporters Jennifer Svan and Immanuel Johnson contributed to this report.
A line formsoutside the barbershop at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, a day before strict new coronavirus measures were to go in effect in Germany. Hairdressers are among non-essential businesses set to close until at last Jan. 10 under the new rules.
JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES