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BERLIN, June 10 (Reuters) – Germany will from next week lift entry restrictions for seasonal workers from European Union and Schengen countries introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said on Wednesday.

With the number of new coronavirus cases in Germany falling and its lockdown easing, the move is designed to give the agricultural sector the ability to plan as farmers get ready for this year’s harvest. Last year, almost 300,000 seasonal workers were employed in Germany’s sector, mainly from Romania and Poland.

However, with the onset of the pandemic, Germany introduced restrictions and allowed a maximum of 80,000 seasonal workers to enter the country, although just under half that number came.

Kloeckner said demand for regional produce had increased.

“But sowing and harvesting food doesn’t happen of its own accord,” she said. “Farmers need professional seasonal help, otherwise we will have to increase our food imports.”

Under the new plans, approved by Chancellor Angela’s cabinet, employers will have to implement strict hygiene standards. Fixed teams will be set up from the start to reduce the risk of the virus spreading and if one worker becomes ill, the whole team must be isolated.

The new rules will apply until Dec. 31. (Reporting by Holger Hansen, Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Michelle Martin)

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