Germany has entered a hard lockdown, closing shops and schools to try to bring down high new daily infections and deaths.
The measures will be in place until 10 January. Christmas will see a slight easing, with one household allowed to host up to four close family members.
Only essential businesses such as supermarkets and banks will be allowed to remain open. Restaurants, bars and leisure centres have been shut since November and some areas of the country had imposed their own lockdowns.
The country recorded 179.8 virus deaths per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago by the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control center.
It also blew past its previous daily death toll, with Germany’s 16 states reporting that 952 more people had died of the virus, the institute said. The country’s overall pandemic death toll now stands at 23,427.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has said that the first Covid vaccine would be authorised for use within a week.
Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – developed in Germany – would be rolled out for the bloc the same day, more than a week earlier than originally envisaged.
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 succeeded in leveling off new daily infections but didn’t bring them down, prompting the new stricter restrictions.
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, among other things.
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 Jan. 10 but enjoy wide support, with the latest polls showing more than 80% 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.
German officials have pressed the European Union’s regulatory agency hard to speed up its approval of a coronavirus vaccine, and 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 the regulations over the holidays.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said Germany was ready and could begin vaccinations within two to four days of the EMA’s approval.
“By summer, we’ll be able to return to normal, step by step,” he said Wednesday on RTL television.
Rita Osakwe/Agency Reports