Germany is to close all but essential shops in the coming days under a weeks-long lockdown covering the Christmas holiday period, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state premiers agreed at a meeting on Sunday.
The measures are to come into effect from Wednesday until January 10.
These also include considerable restrictions imposed on schools and kindergartens, with most facilities to be closed or only operate to a limited extent.
A partial lockdown in Germany that closed bars, restaurants and leisure facilities from early November while keeping shops and schools open was “not enough,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the talks with regional leaders.
The exponential growth in cases was stopped briefly, Merkel told reporters in Berlin, but the exponential trend has since returned following a “sideways movement” in the data.
“We are forced to act and are acting now,” she added, stressing the importance of shielding the nation’s health system.
Merkel has been pushing for a joint response from the 16 states, although Germany’s federal system of government often leads to a patchwork of rules across the country.
Sunday’s agreement also included the promise of further financial aid, especially for retailers.
The federal government is to increase the maximum amount businesses can apply for to make up for lost revenue from 200,000 to 500,000 euros (242,000 to 605,600 dollars), according to the decision paper.
Contact restrictions are not set to change following Sunday’s talks, with a maximum of five people from a maximum of two households allowed to meet at once.
But states can loosen those rules between December 24-26 to allow close families to celebrate Christmas together, depending on the region’s infection rate.
Households should be able to invite other people from their immediate family to join them over that three-day period, under the agreement.
There will be a nationwide ban on gatherings on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while the sale of fireworks before New Year’s Eve is also prohibited.
Germany has registered grim new records in the pandemic in recent days and hospitals in some regions are reaching capacity.
Debate had centred on not if but when a lockdown should come into effect.
On Friday, the country’s coronavirus case count and death toll surged at their fastest rates yet, with 29,875 new coronavirus infections and 598 deaths reported by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.
On Sunday, the RKI reported 20,200 new cases, bringing the total number of infections confirmed in the pandemic so far to 1,320,716. The death toll increased by 321 to reach 21,787.
The numbers tend to be slightly lower on Sundays, due in part to a lull in testing over the weekend.
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