Germany will enter a hard lockdown from Wednesday, with all schools and shops closed, as it battles to control a large push in coronavirus infections.
“Corona has gotten out of hand – we are five minutes from midnight,” Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder told reporters on Sunday after a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states.
The decision came as Germany reported a record high of nearly 30,000 new infections and 598 deaths from Covid-19 on Friday.
Merkel acknowledged that the restrictions would affect Christmas celebrations, but said authorities were “compelled to act”.
Under the decree, most stores will be closed from December 20 to January 10, as will hair salons, cosmetic studios, massage parlors and tattoo shops. Schools will remain closed during the period and companies have been encouraged to allow employees to work from home.
A government statement said German hospitals, especially intensive care units, were under increasing pressure due to “the high number of critically ill corona patients”. A lockdown was needed to prevent the healthcare system from becoming “overburdened”, he said.
A “lockdown-lite” imposed in early November – under which restaurants, bars, theaters and gymnasiums were closed, but schools and stores remained open – briefly succeeded in halting the exponential growth of cases. But infections started to rise again as people met more friends and relatives before the Christmas holidays.
Mr Söder described the coronavirus as a “catastrophe that affects us more than any crisis of the past 50 years”. He said the authorities could no longer be timid in their response, but had to act to prevent Germany from becoming “Europe’s problem child”.
“Bergamo is closer than anyone thinks,” he said, referring to images of military trucks carrying dozens of dead bodies to the northern Italian city during the first wave of the pandemic.
Under the rules, private social gatherings of more than five people will be banned. These will be relaxed slightly from December 24 to 26 so families can spend Christmas together.
Public consumption of alcohol will also be prohibited from Wednesday. Executives recently raised concerns about the number of stalls in city centers selling mulled wine to large groups of people.
All public gatherings will be banned on New Year’s Eve, as will fireworks in public squares. The sale of fireworks before December 31 will also be banned and people will be strongly discouraged from setting off fireworks “given the high risk of injury and the enormous strain on the healthcare system,” according to a statement. published after Sunday’s meeting. Religious services will be allowed, but congregations will be prohibited from singing.
The government has also accepted financial compensation to businesses affected by the closure, amounting to up to € 500,000 per month for each business.