Shops selling non-essential goods, hair-salons and schools in Germany will close from Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, to halt an “exponential growth” in new coronavirus infections in Europe’s biggest economy.
The partial lockdown will apply until January 10, with companies also urged to allow employees to work from home or offer extended company holidays, under the new measures agreed by Merkel with regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states on Sunday.
Alcohol sales would be banned in public places, essentially outlawing the business of mulled wine stands, which have proved popular in the days running up to Christmas.
“The corona situation is out of control,” said Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder, welcoming the tougher restrictions which he pledged to implement in his state.
Germany in November closed leisure and cultural facilities and banned indoor dining in restaurants.
The measures had helped to halt rapid growth of infections after the autumn school holidays, but numbers had plateaued at a high rate.
Over the last week however, the country’s disease control agency reported that the infections trend has taken a worrying turn.
“With increasing mobility and the therefore linked additional contacts in the pre-Christmas period, Germany is now in exponential growth of infections numbers,” said the policy paper agreed by regional leaders and Merkel.
It was therefore “our task to prevent an overload of our health systems and that’s why there is an urgent need to take action,” said the chancellor.
Along with Merkel, Soeder has for weeks been seeking tougher restrictions, warning that the current round of shutdowns hitting theatres, cinemas, gyms and indoor dining was not far-reaching enough.
But the implementation of the restrictions are in the hands of individual states, and some regions where infection levels were lower had been resistant to impose tough curbs. The mood however tipped over in the last week after Germany recorded new daily death tolls reaching close to 600.
The country’s disease control agency chief Lothar Wieler warned on Thursday that the infections trend had taken a worrying turn.
“The rise in numbers is worrying,” said Robert Koch Institute president Wieler, warning that after plateauing for a few weeks, “the course of infections could tip over again” into exponential growth.
Germany has imposed far less stringent shutdown rules than other major European nations after coming through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed.
But Europe’s biggest economy has been severely hit by a second wave with daily new infections more than three times that of the peak in the spring.
Germany recorded another 20,200 new Covid cases over the past 24 hours, reaching a total of 1,320,716 cases, according to RKI data published Sunday.
Another 321 patients died from the disease from a day earlier, bringing the total death toll to 21,787.
In a hard-hitting speech before the Bundestag on Wednesday, Merkel issued a stark warning to Germans ahead of the Christmas holiday season when families are expected to gather.
“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it ends up being the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we’d really have failed,” she said.
Merkel’s government has repeatedly said that numbers need to be brought down to 50 per 100,000 people but the rate is currently 169.1 per 100,000.
Ahead of the talks, Germany’s hardest hit states have already ordered new measures.
Saxony state, where in some areas incidence rates have hit 500 per 100,000, will keep shops and schools shut from Monday.
A curfew will also kick in from 10pm to 6am.