Germany is to go into a hard lockdown over the Christmas period as infections and deaths from Covid-19 reach record levels.
Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for a “considerable” rise in crowds and super-spreader situations. She said it was the government’s job to “prevent an overload of our health systems”.
The new lockdown will run from Dec 16 to Jan 10. Announcing the move after meeting leaders of the country’s 16 states, Merkel said there was “an urgent need to take action”.
Restaurants, bars and leisure centres have already been closed since November. Under the new national lockdown rules, essential shops will stay open. Outlets selling Christmas trees can also continue trading but hair salons must close.
New Year events and the sale of fireworks will be banned. Drinking alcohol in public places, such as stalls selling traditional Christmas glühwein – hot spicy wine – is also forbidden.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said affected businesses would receive government support.
The latest official figures on Sunday showed 20,200 more infections, bringing Germany’s total to date to more than 1.3 million. The death toll has risen by 321 to 21,787, the Robert Koch Institute says.
Germany was previously seen as relatively successful in controlling the pandemic compared to European neighbours, thanks in part to extensive testing and tracing. But there is a growing recognition among political leaders that what was dubbed “lockdown lite” has not achieved enough.
“If we’re not careful, Germany could quickly become Europe’s problem child,” Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Soder warned. “For that reason we must act.” He did not rule out Germany extending the lockdown beyond Jan 10.