The German chancellor has announced the closure of stores, schools and day care centers in the run up to Christmas to stem the surge in coronavirus cases. The new rules will come into effect from Wednesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday ordered most stores to shut from Wednesday, along with schools and daycare centers.
The new restrictions will be in effect until at least January 10 to help tackle the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic which threatens to overwhelm the country’s health system.
In a news conference after a meeting of federal and state leaders, she said the country urgently needed to address the exponential rise in COVID-19 infections.
The decision is set to cause a major disruption for retailers, the education system and the public in the lead up to the Christmas holidays.
What do the new restrictions consist of?
- All non-essential shops and services will close until January 10, including hairdressers which remained open under the current lockdown “lite.”
- Schools are urged to send students home and continue lessons online as well as extending the Christmas holidays until January 10.
- Daycare centers will also close, but parents will be able to take paid holidays in order to look after their children.
- Employers are encouraged to allow employees to work from home.
- People will not be allowed to drink alcohol in public.
- Religious events in churches, synagogues, and mosques may take place if they follow hygiene rules, but communal singing is not allowed.
- States still plan to ease stricter contact restrictions for December 24 to 26 so that close family members can spend Christmas together — a household may, during this time, invite up to four adults from other households but only from the immediate family, plus any number of children under 14.
- People may not purchase fireworks for New Year’s Eve.
The chancellor also recommended that families who are planning to meet up should isolate for a week beforehand to be safe.
What do the new rules aim to achieve?
“The measures which we began on November 2 have not been enough,” Merkel said in a statement after the meeting.
“The health system is under heavy strain and our aim has always been to avoid an overloading of the health care system.”
The goal of the new measures is to bring down the infection rate so that authorities can carry out contact tracing once again — the high number of infections made contact tracing impossible.
An acceptable infection rate for this would be 50 cases per 100,000 residents. Although the government has agreed on the new measures until January 10, they may be further extended if the case numbers fail to come down.
On Sunday, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases reported 20,200 new infections and 321 fatalities. The number is less than Friday’s record of 29.875 cases.
The country’s intensive care unit capacity is also at a critical level, and doctors have warned that only five to 10% of intensive care beds are available in some parts of the country.
Drastic measures — but a harsher lockdown is possible
DW Correspondent in Berlin, Hans Brandt, explained the relevance of the speedy decision that the government and heads of Germany’s 16 states made.
“It was somewhat surprising that they agreed so quickly. The whole meeting took just over an hour. We have been used to these discussions between the central government and the regional leaders dragging on for hours and hours, often with acrimonious discussions.”
Brandt described the shutting down of retails shops during the peak of Christmas shopping as “a very drastic measure.”
He went on to point out that the new rules do not equate to the harshest possible lockdown and that people still have some leeway.
“A stricter lockdown is still conceivable since there is no rule that people have to stay at home, it’s still only an appeal.”
Brandt also said that Angela Merkel had been pushing for a stricter lockdown for a while and will be satisfied with the decision.
Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, who was also present at the meeting, promised financial support for those businesses and individuals affected by the stricter measures.
Hans Brandt explained that while it’s still unknown how exactly the government will support businesses, “but we know that the volume will be somewhere between €10 and €12 billion ($12.11 to 14.53 billion) every month” for businesses and self-employed people that cannot work due to the restrictions.
The German finance ministry explained in a tweet that it was planning further support for those affected by the lockdown, saying: “Companies, the self-employed and freelancers who are affected by closures from December 16, will receive financial support. That means improved bridging aid — subsidies for fixed costs, better conditions and higher monthly grants up to a maximum of €500,000.”