Faced with a second wave of Coronavirus infections, Germany is preparing to close “non-essential” businesses for at least three weeks from Wednesday to avoid experiencing an uncontrollable spike in new cases due to the end-of-year holidays.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday began a videoconference with the heads of Germany’s 16 Länder (regions) with a view to imposing more drastic measures, rendered necessary by the record number of new Covid-19 infections in recent days.
According to a draft agreement between the Federal State and the Länders, of which AFP obtained a copy, schools along with most businesses would be closed from Wednesday to 10 January. Businesses would also need to have their staff work more from home.
Social contacts would need to be limited to a maximum of five adults from two different households. They would also need to be further restricted from 24 to 26 December, when only the closest family members would be able to meet.
After closing restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, museums and sporting facilities for six weeks, Germany has been forced to admit that these restrictions have not been enough.
“The situation is still very serious,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch health monitoring institute, warned on Thursday. The virus keeps spreading because people have not done enough to reduce their contacts, he said.
In fact, with the approach of the yearend festivals, many Germans can be seen grouped around mulled wine or waffle stands in all the country’s cities, prompting Chancellor Merkel to express grave concern about the matter in the Bundestag this week.
Certain department stores and shopping centres were almost taken by storm on Saturday, with long queues of customers standing outside them, waiting to do their Christmas shopping.
However, in an open letter to the Chancellor, about 30 retailers warned against the dramatic fallout that a new closure of stores just before Christmas could have.
The number of new infections almost topped the 30,000 mark on Friday and again on Saturday. This was way above the average for the first wave of infections, which Germany had been better able to control than many other European countries.
On Thursday, daily deaths from COVID-19 hit a record 598.
Some regions did not wait on Sunday’s meeting to take measures. In Saxony, the Länder worst affected by the epidemic, stores and schools will be closed from Monday.
On Wednesday, Angela Merkel had launched a vibrant appeal in the Bundestag for people to limit contacts to a minimum, including at Christmas and on New Year’s Day.
“If we have too many contacts now before Christmas, and that ends up making it the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we will have failed,” she said.