Germany will go into a hard lockdown over the Christmas period as the number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus reaches record levels.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases.
Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks.
Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or will switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers that have so far been allowed to remain open. Restaurant takeout 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.
The German government called on citizens to forgo Christmas shopping and appealed to Christians to stay home and watch the traditional Christmas Mass online this year to avoid the further spread of the virus among congregations.
“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said late Sunday. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”
Hospitals across the country had in recent weeks repeatedly warned that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem.
On Monday, 4,552 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care in the country, 52 percent of them on respirators.
A later-than-expected distribution of vaccines is adding to the headaches of Angela Merkel’s coalition government. According to several media reports on Sunday, Germany is expected to only receive 3m-4m doses of the first vaccine before the end of January, due to production problems with Pfizer/BioNTech.
The European Medicines Agency has yet to approve the vaccine developed by the Mainz-based company BioNTech.
Germany is also still waiting for its share of a 300m-dose order of the vaccine developed by French company Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, who announced last week that their product would not be ready for distribution until the end of 2021.