Photo: Roksana96 via Pixabay
As of this Wednesday, Germany has entered a so-called ‘hard’ lockdown, introducing tougher nationwide and state-wide COVID-19 restrictions until at least 10 January. Wednesday 16 December marked the record-high number of deaths due to coronavirus in Germany.
Germany’s leading federal medical agency and researcher, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 952 deaths, exceeding the previous record of 598 by almost 60 percent. The previous figure was recorded last Friday, just a week ago. The scale of the new record can be held at least partially accountable to the late registration of figures from Saxony, a largely rural state on Germany’s eastern border, which has become a COVID-19 hotspot. Following a recent surge in cases, Saxony had already implemented tighter restrictions starting on Monday 14 December.
Some citizens may question the timing of these restrictions, with the EU Chief Ursula von der Leyen committing to authorising the first COVID-19 vaccine for use within a week, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) discussing the rollout of the German-developed Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine across the EU next Monday. Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her press conference on Wednesday, “it’s about coping with the pandemic and the national vaccination strategy”, with the German government keen for a speedy vaccine approval.
Photo: kfuhlert via Pixabay
Despite these latest developments, many European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Austria have tightened restrictions ready for Christmas, and Germany has opted to follow suit. When announcing this week’s new measures last weekend, Merkel stated that the ‘lockdown light’, which began in November, had not done enough to bring the virus under control.
Perhaps the main justification for Germany’s restrictions, though, is the increase in COVID-19 cases in older age groups. The latest RKI situation report detailed a rising infection rate among the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious health implications should they contract the virus. The increase means that the number of severe cases and deaths is also on the rise, despite the RKI finding that the infection rate among younger age groups is decreasing slightly or stagnating.
The current head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute Lothar Wieler said the situation was “more serious than it has ever been”. On Tuesday, he called on Germans to limit contact to a minimum the week before Christmas.
An empty street in Kempen, North-Rhine Westphalia. Photo: Caniceus via Pixabay
What are the new limits and restrictions in Germany?
There remains a contact limit of five people from a maximum of two households for private gatherings, which excludes children up to 14 years old. For the Christmas period, between 24 and 26 December, get-togethers with four people “beyond your own household” are allowed, but this should be limited to the closest family circle.
There are also specific, albeit less clear, restrictions in place for New Year’s Eve (‘Silvester’) and New Year’s Day. This includes a nationwide ban on gatherings, as well as a combination of regulations which should long-windedly lead to a ban on traditional Silvester celebrations. For example, the sale of pyrotechnics before the New Year is “generally” prohibited and the ignition of fireworks is “nationally advised against”, with some federal states implementing bans in certain public places.
On the other hand, Christmas church services and meetings in places of worship are still allowed, but under strict conditions: the minimum distance of 1.5m must be observed, masks must be worn and registration must be made at large events.
As ever, rules will vary across Germany’s federal states. State minister for Bavaria Markus Söder (CSU) insisted on keeping the 9pm curfew firmly in place and standing his ground on stronger restrictions. During the extended winter lockdown, education is to be “significantly restricted”, with schools to close and children to work from home wherever possible. However, emergency care, distance learning and “additional opportunities” are to be created and offered by states.
The retail and catering sector will also be affected by the shutdown, with shops remaining closed until 10 January. Essential shops which may remain open include supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, post offices, opticians, wholesalers, and not forgetting Christmas tree farms. The consumption of festive food and drink will not take place publicly at all this year, with the consumption of alcohol in outdoor and public spaces strictly prohibited. Personal services such as the hairdressing and cosmetics sectors will also have to struggle their way into 2021 under further closures.
Restaurants face closures across the country. Photo: Queven via Pixabay
Click here to read the Robert Koch Institute's daily situation reports about the spread of COVID-19 in Germany.