Germany enters tightened lockdown as Covid-19 deaths hit new high

·4-min read

Germany reported a record level of coronavirus deaths as it entered a harder lockdown Wednesday, closing shops and schools to try to bring down stubbornly high new daily infections.

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 public health agency.

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. That was far greater than the previous daily record set Friday of 598 deaths, although it included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony, which did not report Tuesday. It brought the country's overall pandemic death toll to 23,427.

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 levelling 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.

‘Return to normal by summer’

Food shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, Christmas tree sellers and other businesses providing essential services can stay 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 January 10 but enjoy widespread public support, with the latest polls showing more than 80 percent of Germans approve of the lockdown measures or think they should be stricter.

FRANCE 24’s Berlin correspondent Nick Spicer said that compliance with the new restrictions seemed high in the German capital: “It’s hard to find somebody in the street to talk to; if you go to the shopping district, it’s empty.”

“This year, I don't think Christmas is that important, in the face of the facts we have in society right now,” Stella Kretschmer, a 27-year-old student in the western city of Cologne, famous for its cathedral, told AP.

The student said she was in favour of shops being closed down.

“For me, consumption is not the most important thing,” she said, adding, however, that she does “feel sorry for the people who ... have to fear for their jobs”.

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.

While daily new cases peaked in March at about 6,000, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 new cases reported Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute.

Two weeks after the UK became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 jab, German officials have pressed Brussels’ regulatory agency hard to speed up its approval of a vaccine.

“The question on everyone’s mind is: when will we be vaccinated,” Spicer observed.

The European Medicines Agency has brought forward a meeting on the issue to December 21 from December 29.

“Likely that the first Europeans will be vaccinated before end 2020,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

In light of the approaching vaccinations, German officials have urged people to stay patient and respect the regulations over the Christmas season.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country 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 told RTL television.

Netherlands, London ramp up measures

Germany was not the only European country to tighten Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday. The Netherlands ramped up even further the strict five-week coronavirus lockdown that went into force just a day earlier, amid a backlash over some large shops remaining open. The same day, the country reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, hitting a new record.

London on Wednesday moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions in an effort to control rising infection rates, dealing another blow to hospitality venues before Christmas.

The British capital's move into “Tier 3” means theatres, pubs and restaurants will have to close, although takeaways can still operate.

People cannot now socialise with anyone not from their household or support bubble, but can meet in groups of up to six in public places outside.

“This action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe but because we have seen early action can prevent more damage and longer-term problems later,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the British Parliament.

(FRANCE 24 with AP & AFP)