Economy & Politics

Corona crisis, mushrooms, filters: How gastronomy wants to get through the winter

Empty chairs at a table in outdoor dining. The outdoor catering, which is often chosen in Corona times, becomes more uncomfortable at this time of the year.
Empty chairs at a table in outdoor dining. The outdoor catering, which is often chosen in Corona times, becomes more uncomfortable at this time of the year. imago images / Martin Wagner

“Our virus-safe, certified system filters the air we breathe in the restaurant seven times an hour – so you can breathe deeply, almost as if you were in the fresh air.” The badly battered industry wants to save itself through the Corona winter with air filter systems, patio heaters and radiant heaters. “Our entrepreneurs are getting ready for the autumn and winter seasons,” explains the Dehoga Federal Association.

Because this announces itself extremely threateningly with the autumn lull and closing times. The long summer brought a slight breather thanks to the relaxation of the corona requirements, hygiene concepts and an expansion of outdoor management. But the pre-crisis level has not yet been reached.

While sales in the hospitality industry fell drastically between 45 and 75 percent from March to May, according to the latest information from the Federal Statistical Office in August they were still 22 percent lower in real terms than in the previous year or the month before the crisis. The recovery bypassed many of them: After trade and the construction industry, companies in the hospitality industry with 1,000 insolvency proceedings were the most likely to pull the rip cord in the first half of 2020.

Not the buck

The now tightened regulations on contact limits and especially during the closing times hit the hospitality industry hard. “The measures are threatening the very existence”, it says. In any case, tables were increasingly vacant in the first few weeks of autumn. The industry hopes all the more that further lockdowns can be prevented. With snappy slogans like “Keep your distance. Otherwise your local bar will close faster than you, ”say industry representatives for compliance with regulations.

The industry does not want to be given the buck, after allegedly excessive sociability is driving the number of new infections up again. “Our strict hygiene concepts work. Hotels and restaurants have demonstrably not contributed to the increase in infections, ”Dehoga President Guido Zoellick assured the federal and state governments before the last round of crises.

At the same time, German restaurateurs are calling on politicians to keep the framework as flexible as possible in order to enable them to survive. Above all, the patio heaters, which are largely banned for climate protection, are considered bearers of hope. Nationwide approval is to be obtained in order to be able to serve more guests outdoors in autumn and winter thanks to gas heating mushrooms and electric radiant heaters.

Hope in the Corona winter

In fact, the long skeptical Hanseatic city of Hamburg has recently given up its resistance. Most metropolises, such as Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Cologne or Düsseldorf have suspended the ban, Munich only allows the “climate offenders” to be electrically powered, in Berlin one district after the other is gradually issuing a corona exception. Even parts of the Greens and the head of the Federal Environment Agency Dirk Messner consider them justifiable. A commercially available propane heater with eight kilowatts of heating output blows around 2.2 kilograms of CO2 equivalents into the air per hour, according to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

The more the number of new infections recorded increases, the more people will avoid closed restaurants, even if the distance rules are observed. According to a survey by Yougov, every second German stated in August that they avoided public indoor spaces for fear of the risk of infection. The risk of infection is high there because of the aerosols: In addition to droplets that are thrown when sneezing or coughing, but sink within a radius of two meters to the ground, aerosol particles – much smaller droplets that are secreted when speaking or breathing – can still go for hours of the emission and several meters away from an infected person.

Not only since scientific studies for classrooms recommend the use of professional air purifiers in addition to shock ventilation, sales in the catering industry have also been going through the roof. Atmospheric researchers at the Goethe University in Frankfurt have just shown that devices of the HEPA (H13) filter class can reduce the aerosol concentration by 90 percent in half an hour. These high-performance particulate filters (HEPA or High Efficiency Particulate Air) of Class 13 or 14 can filter up to 99.995 percent of aerosols from the air – and thus also the virus particles bound in them.

Don’t give aerosols a chance

Such particle filters are usually used in clinics and laboratories. Now the restaurant association is also recommending its members to take a look at the recommendations of the federal government for “ventilation in accordance with infection control”. There, it is advisable to retrofit air circulation systems for higher air exchange rates through outside air and to upgrade to dust filters of the ISO ePM1 70 or 80 percent classes. But even better: to upgrade to the HEPA 13 or 14 standards, which have been scientifically tested for virus protection.

The food and hospitality trade association also points out that air purifiers in recirculation mode are generally less effective than direct fresh air supply from outside. Devices that work on the basis of electrostatic precipitators, cold plasma or UV radiation could release ozone and nitrogen oxides into the air we breathe. Particular caution is required here with some offers on the market.

New, high-performance plants and systems are of course expensive to purchase. The federal government plans to invest up to 500 million euros in improving ventilation systems by 2024 – but only for modernization in public buildings. Hesse’s Ministry of Economic Affairs is apparently looking into support for operationally necessary investments especially for the catering industry. And according to the Federal Government’s SME Commissioner, Thomas Bareiß, it should also be possible to financially support patio heaters from the ongoing bridging aid.

But some restaurants may not need a lot of effort at all. After all, just a few years ago, with a sufficiently high air flow, the filter systems freed many interiors from the fumes of smoking cigarettes.

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