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Germany is heading for a major new nationwide lockdown to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus after health experts said that to wait until after Christmas to wind the country down could cost tens of thousands of lives and overwhelm hospitals.
The country recorded almost 23,000 new cases on Wednesday morning, and 598 deaths, both rates higher than at any time since the start of the pandemic.
Leading politicians urged the government to act immediately to instigate what some media were calling a “blitz lockdown”.
Markus Söder, leader of the southern state of Bavaria, where cases have risen sharply in the past few days, said on Friday morning: “We have to act as soon as possible.” He said that every day counted, tweeting: “Why hesitate, when we know that it’s necessary? Which is why we need to push everything forward and act decisively. We need to wind everything down before Christmas.”
He called for a nationwide approach, including curfews, the closure of non-essential shops, and an extension of school and kindergarten holidays.
On 2 November the country entered a “soft lockdown”, with rules tightened on gatherings and bars and restaurants closed, but shops and schools remaining open.
Germans had been expecting a relaxation of restrictions from 23 December, which was to have allowed private gatherings of up to 10 individuals – though not counting children under 14 – from two different households, until 1 January.
People were being discouraged from making nonessential journeys but were not banned from travelling. They were urged to quarantine for a week before any celebrations, particularly those involving elderly people.
But those rules are now widely expected to be overwritten this weekend.
The health minister, Jens Spahn, said: “It’s clear that we need additional measures, and rather sooner than later. We cannot allow this to be a festival for the virus. The virus doesn’t care whether or not we’ve bought our Christmas presents.”
Appealing to Germans to show solidarity towards each other, he said: “The ‘us’ has to be more important than the ‘I’, and that means making a sacrifice.”
The federal government and the leaders of the 16 states are to meet on Sunday to decide on the next set of emergency measures. But many decision-makers were urging the government to act more quickly.
Daniel Günther, head of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, said it was “irresponsible to wait another day”. He said Germany faced “an unbelievably difficult time until Easter”.
On Thursday, Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, said he wanted the capital to shut its shops and to coordinate with neighbouring Brandenburg, but a decision is not due until Tuesday.
In an emotional speech to the state parliament, he asked: “How many deaths is a candlelit dinner worth? … How many deaths is a shopping spree worth?” as he sought support for a lockdown before Christmas, which he said was necessary to save lives.
Earlier the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said it would be a mistake to wait until after Christmas to tighten restrictions. “The only chance for us to take control of the situation again is a lockdown that kicks in immediately,” he told Der Spiegel. To do otherwise would leave Germany tackling an exponential rise in cases over months, he added.
Seehofer said he was “furious” that Germany had “thrown away the advantage it had fought for” early on in the pandemic, blaming not a lack of discipline by citizens, but “insufficient measures taken”.
On Wednesday, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, delivered an unusually expressive appeal, her voice breaking as she urged people to stay at home over Christmas, or risk not seeing their grandparents again.
Merkel has repeatedly called for a nationwide approach to tackling the coronavirus but most of the decisions have been made on a state basis, and have appeared ad hoc and confusing.
Bavaria introduced stricter rules on Wednesday including a night-time curfew in hotspots and a ban on alcohol sales in inner cities.
The state of Baden Württemberg has introduced a curfew to start on Saturday, with people allowed out to go to work or for essential visits to the shops or doctor.
From Monday in Saxony, schools, kindergartens and nonessential shops will be closed. Politicians urged Saxonians not to travel to neighbouring Brandenburg, where shops remain open.
The German Society of Surgeons has warned of the consequences of overburdened hospitals on non-coronavirus patients. Currently 4,000 intensive care beds in Germany are occupied with Covid-19 cases, a third more than at the high point of the pandemic during the first wave.
Prof Thomas Schmitz-Rixen, vice-president of the German Society for Surgeons, told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “The situation in the hospitals is getting increasingly tense.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Germany heads for national lockdown as Covid cases rise sharply | Germany