Germany has reported a record level of coronavirus deaths as it enters a harder lockdown, closing shops and schools to try to bring down high new daily infections.
The country has recorded 179.8 virus infections per 100,000 residents for the past week, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago.
It has also blown past its previous daily death toll, with Germany’s 16 states reporting 952 more people have died of the virus, according to national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute.
That was far greater than the previous daily record set on Friday of 598 deaths, although it included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony, which did not report Tuesday.
The figure brings the country’s overall pandemic death toll to 23,427.
“It’s as if the virus wanted to remind us how important what we’re now doing is,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said of the surge in deaths.
Faced with exponentially increasing cases in October, Germany implemented a “lockdown light” at the start of November, which closed bars and restaurants but left shops open.
The measures slowed the weekly increase in new infections but didn’t bring them down, prompting more drastic measures.
In addition to closing shops and moving children to remote learning for the few days before the Christmas holidays, private gatherings are being limited to two households with a maximum of five people.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks and other businesses providing services deemed essential – including Christmas tree vendors – can remain open.
In Saxony, where the virus is spreading most rapidly in Germany at the moment, hospitals are filling up.
The state’s governor said more drastic restrictions might be necessary, calling it “pure poison” when too many people were still going out and about.
The restrictions are expected last until at least January 10 but enjoy wide support. Polls show more than 80 per cent of Germans approve of the lockdown measures or think they should be stricter.
Germany was widely praised for slowing the spread of its outbreak in the spring but as people grew lax with distancing and mask rules over the summer the numbers of cases started to climb again.
While daily cases peaked in March at about 6000, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 new infections on Wednesday.
To Germany’s north, Denmark is also heading into lockdown to try to quell a deadly surge of the virus.
A “full lockdown” will begin on December 25 and last until January 3. All shops, except supermarkets and pharmacies, will closed.
Denmark’s outbreak is not as severe as Germany’s – the State Serum Institute announced 3692 positive tests on December 16.
There were 493 COVID patients in Danish hospitals on Wednesday, accounting for almost half of the country’s virus beds. The national toll from the pandemic is 961.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the situation was “very serious.”
“We have now reached risk level four across the country, which is the second highest level. That means the authorities estimate that infection is widespread nationwide,” she said.
Elsewhere, German officials have pressed the European Union’s regulatory agency hard to speed up its approval of a coronavirus vaccine. The European Medicines Agency has scheduled a meeting Monday on that.
With vaccinations expected to start before year’s end, German officials have urged people to stay patient and respect regulations over the holidays.
Mr Spahn said Germany was ready and could begin vaccinations within two to four days of the EMA’s approval.