Halloween 2020: superspreading event? It really is that dangerous on October 31st

When skeletons, witches and creepy pirates roam the streets, it’s Halloween again. The hype from the USA has long since reached Germany. More and more children and young people always dress up on the last day of October to ring the doorbell and ask for small treats with slogans such as “Trick or Treat”.

Several industries take advantage of its popularity: specially created Halloween editions flood the shelves of supermarkets every year. And the Germans are busy shopping for the festival.

Last year they spent around 320 million euros on sweets, make-up, decorative items and costumes. Fruit gums, chocolate bars and the like alone brought retail sales an estimated ten million euros.

Parents get inventive

But children pulling from door to door, dozens of little hands reaching into the same bowls: that sounds like a nightmare in pandemic times. Critics expect some kind of superspreader event.

NRW Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU), for example, calls on children and families to refrain from moving this year. His Brandenburg counterpart Ursula Nonnemacher (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen) made a similar statement. But inventive parents don’t want to be banned from partying.

The children would have had to do without too much this year, writes a young mother on Facebook. They’ll put a bowl in front of the door and children can help themselves.

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She wants to pack small bags for this, all with identical fillings. “So everyone can be sure that their sweets have not wandered through 20 hands,” she writes on Facebook and encourages others to share the post.

Another alternative is suggested on a picture in her post: To make Halloween possible at a distance, children could ring the doorbell, place their bags on the doormat, and then take a few steps back.

The bags could be filled with sweets without contact. Those who want to take part can hang a sign on the door so that the children can see who is taking part in the action.

Special creations for the goosebumps festival

The confectionery industry is responding to the demand for goosebumps with specially created Halloween specialties, from scary biscuits to pirate lollipops. “Of course there are also specially designed products for Halloween this year,” says a spokeswoman for the Association of the German Confectionery Industry.

Haribo, for example, traditionally pushes his “horror bag” with bat and pumpkin replica onto the store shelves towards the end of October. Compared to traditional festivals such as Christmas or Easter, however, these are niche products, according to the association.

Measured against the total production value of a good 12.5 billion euros in the past year, sales of Halloween products, which are in the lower double-digit million range, are actually more of a marginal phenomenon.

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The epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs, who teaches global health among other things at the Akkon University in Berlin, considers the risk of Halloween parades to be limited: “The children usually move through the streets in very small groups or with their siblings, and they are there too still in the fresh air, ”he explains.

At the same time, the contacts at the front door are only very brief. “The coronavirus mainly spreads via aerosols – the children do not come very close to the residents if only a short handover takes place at the front door.”

Smear infections were also a negligible risk, if any. “Even if all children put their hands in the same bowl one after the other, it is very unlikely that the coronavirus will spread as a result.”

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Other pathogens, such as cold viruses, on the other hand, would certainly spread via this route. But this risk, too, can easily be eliminated if children carry disinfectants with them or house residents make them available before the children can help themselves.

Nevertheless, the uncertainty remains high. Retailers and manufacturers do not assume that the considerable sales figures from previous years can be achieved again.

In 2020, the German Retail Association (HDE) refrained from a new survey on the business expectations of merchants for Halloween. “Everything is under the big question mark of the pandemic,” said an HDE spokesman.

The toy industry expects a minus

The toy industry nevertheless uses the opportunity to create buying opportunities. Trick-or-treat buckets, witch hats or magic wands are going well this year too.

The Danish toy giant Lego also ties in with the festival. Based on the Harry Potter world, parents, godmothers and grandpas can buy kits including mini muffins, stink bombs and love potions for around 400 euros. “The theme of Halloween is present, even if the celebrations are limited,” says Lego.

All in all, the German Association of the Toy Industry is expecting a decrease compared to the previous year. According to expert estimates, sales around October 31 are usually between 50 and 100 million euros.

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“Enormous suffering”

In order to make the Halloween festival possible despite the pandemic, parents come up with a lot. For example, a mother posted a photo of a bag on social media that she had attached to a stick to enable contactless handover including clearance.

Similar constructions can even be purchased ready-made on the Internet. The Berlin epidemiologist Ulrichs thinks this is a good idea, especially in residential areas where mainly elderly people live.

To ban the festival this year is, in his opinion, an exaggeration. “There are so many occasions when children get close that Halloween is harmless. You should give them the party, ”he says.

Disaster year for costume dealers

At the same time, Ulrichs warns against playing down any event that takes place in the fresh air.

Sankt Martin, for example, is basically very similar to Halloween, “however, the groups during the parades are usually much larger, the children are closer, and the contacts between adults often last longer because they stand together by the wayside” – consequently, it is much higher Expected risk.

Halloween is by no means just a children’s party – young people and adults had long since integrated the lust for horror into their celebration culture. This is also different this fall.

These celebrations actually have to be canceled this year – because it is difficult to keep your distance within rooms, emphasizes epidemiologist Ulrichs. In addition, current contact restrictions simply do not allow celebrations to be held due to the local incidence.

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Sellers of costumes and decorative items are hard hit by not having parties and street festivals. “After Carnival, Halloween is usually the second largest sales driver at all of our 31 locations,” says Björn Lindert, Managing Director of the costume retail market leader Deiters. This year sales are 50 to 80 percent below normal. “2020 is a year of disaster for us,” says Lindert.

In the past few days, however, the company has felt a touch of revival, especially with decorative items. Apparently one or the other celebration is planned in a small group at home, Lindert concludes.

Meanwhile, Deiters tries a fusion of infection protection and fun. The company designed its own creepy Halloween masks, some with LED lighting.

For the even more important carnival business, the chain is preparing for ongoing restrictions as well as for the epidemic to run out, the manager assured: “Our warehouses are full, all branches are ready to play.”