News World Germany to impose stricter coronavirus lockdown amid ‘urgent need’ for action

Germany to impose stricter coronavirus lockdown amid ‘urgent need’ for action

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Germans will spend the festive season in lockdown after fears that Christmas shopping could lead to a surge in coronavirus cases.

The new nationwide lockdown will last through Christmas and into the New Year, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced.

Ms Merkel said Christmas shopping had resulted in a “considerable” rise in social contacts and created an “urgent need” to tighten coronavirus restrictions.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 20,200 to 1,320,716, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.

The reported death toll rose by 321 to 21,787, the tally showed.

From Wednesday, non-essential shops across the country will be forced to shut their doors. That includes hairdressers, which have so far been allowed to remain open.

Employers will have to choose to either close operations or allow their staff to work from home and students are to return to remote learning.

The hard lockdown, which will last until at least January 10, also means Germany will not be able to welcome the New Year like it normally does.

New Year’s Eve fireworks will be banned, as will the sale of alcoholic drinks for outdoor consumption.

Restaurant take-outs will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site.

With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.

No singing will be allowed in churches and those who wish to attend a Christmas service will have to register their name beforehand.

“I would have wished for lighter measures. But due to Christmas shopping the number of social contacts has risen considerably,” Ms Merkel said following a meeting with leaders of the country’s 16 federal states.

“We are forced to act, and we’re acting too,” she said, adding that it was her government’s job to “prevent an overload of our health systems”.

An empty Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Wismar over the weekend: Menschenleer is one of the main shopping streets in the Hanseatic city where the Christmas market usually takes place here every year in December. Photo: Getty

Under the agreement, only essential shops such as supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as banks, are to remain open.

Parents have been asked to look after their children at home “whenever possible” as schools and nurseries will only be available to essential workers for the last three days before the start of the scheduled Christmas holidays.

Germany has been in a “soft lockdown” mode for six weeks, with bars and restaurants closed, while stores and schools have remained open.

“‘Lockdown light’ has had an impact, but it was not sufficient,” Bavaria’s prime minister Markus Soeder said. “The situation is out of control.”

He noted that the ban on fireworks followed appeals from hospitals, which said they wouldn’t be able to treat the large number of serious injuries that result every year from mishandled explosives.

The pandemic is already a “catastrophe” and “if we’re not careful, Germany will quickly become the problem child of Europe”, he warned.

Ms Merkel recently called for “vigilance” as new daily infections and deaths reached record highs.

“If we have too many contacts now, before Christmas, and if this ends up being the last Christmas we have with our grandparents, we will have done something wrong,” she said during a speech to parliament on December 9.

Some regions have already imposed tougher measures as infections grew.

A curfew has been in force in Baden-Württemberg since Saturday. Until January 10, people can only leave the house for work and medical appointments between 9 pm and 5 am.

Meanwhile, residents of Schleswig-Holstein can no longer meet in groups of ten. The maximum number allowed to meet in public and private spaces has been reduced to five.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the government would provide further financial support for businesses affected by the lockdown.

German news agency dpa reported the additional sums amounted to 11.2 billion euros ($18.0 billion).

-with AAP