Germany will face a tough situation from Wednesday as all schools and shops are closed as it struggles to control a sharp surge in coronavirus infections.
"Corona has gotten out of hand – we are five minutes to midnight," said Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder to journalists on Sunday after a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of state and government of the 16 German federal states.
The decision was made when Germany reported a record of almost 30,000 new infections and 598 deaths from Covid-19 on Friday.
Ms. Merkel admitted that the restrictions would affect the Christmas party, but said the authorities were "forced to act".
"There is an urgent need for action," she said. "We have seen an increase in infections and exponential growth in the past few days."
According to the decree, most stores will be closed from December 20 to January 10, as will hair salons, beauty salons, massage parlors and tattoo shops. Schools will remain closed during the period and companies have been urged to allow employees to work from home.
A government statement states that German hospitals, especially intensive care units, are increasingly burdened due to the “high number of seriously ill corona patients”. A blockage is necessary to prevent the health system from being “overloaded”.
A “Lockdown-Lite” imposed at the beginning of November, during which restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms were closed, but schools and shops were still open, temporarily halted the exponential growth in some cases. But infections picked up again when people met friends and relatives in greater numbers before the Christmas holidays.
Mr Söder described the coronavirus as a "catastrophe that affects us more than any crisis in the last 50 years". He said the authorities could no longer be half-hearted in their reaction, but must prevent Germany from becoming “Europe's problem child”.
"Bergamo is closer than anyone thinks," he said in a reference to images of military trucks that carried dozens of bodies from the northern Italian city in the first wave of the pandemic.
According to the rules, private social gatherings of more than five people are prohibited. These will be a little relaxed between December 24th and 26th so families can spend Christmas together.
Public alcohol consumption will also be banned from Wednesday. Executives have recently raised concerns about the number of stalls in city centers selling mulled wine to large groups of people.
All public gatherings are banned on New Year's Eve, as are fireworks in public places. Fireworks will also be banned from selling fireworks before December 31st, and people will be strongly discouraged from using pyrotechnics "given the high risk of injury and the enormous burden on the health system," according to a statement released after the meeting on Sunday. Worship services are allowed, but churches are not allowed to sing.
The government also agreed financial compensation to companies affected by the closure of up to € 500,000 per month for each company.
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