Merkel urges stricter German coronavirus curbs in hotspots

Merkel urges stricter German coronavirus curbs in hotspots
Merkel speaking in Berlin at a press conference on December 2nd. Photo: DPA
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday urged German regions with high coronavirus rates to tighten social contact restrictions before Christmas as the country struggled to slow a second wave of infections.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that the government welcomed a move by Bavaria on Sunday to step up its shutdown rules in the light of still climbing outbreak numbers in hotspots.

“These are worrisome days,” Seibert said, noting that infections rates “are not consistently going down” but rather rising in some areas and that Germany was “far from turning the corner”.

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“It is obvious and also necessary for individual states to think about which measures they could use to curb new infections,” he said, calling Bavaria's planned tightening from Wednesday “good and right”.

Long hailed as an example in the pandemic due to a far lower death rate
than most of its neighbours, Germany has seen its infection levels plateau at a high level for more than a month.

READ ALSO: Bavaria to move into tougher lockdown ahead of Christmas

The eastern state of Saxony, coping with its own infections spike, followed suit with an announcement it would meet Tuesday to agree stricter rules.

Seibert noted that Merkel and Germany's 16 state premiers had “specifically agreed” that regional governments could go beyond national guidelines if conditions demanded it.

Although they are not scheduled to have another meeting in that format to assess country-wide rules until January 4th, Seibert said such a meeting was possible again “at any time” in the period before Christmas if deemed
necessary.

Under a so-called “lockdown light”, German cultural and sporting facilities as well as restaurants and bars have been shut since early November, with public gatherings limited but schools and shops remaining open.

Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to extend the partial shutdown until January 10th, while still allowing certain exceptions for gatherings at Christmas and New Year.

Merkel's economy minister Peter Altmaier acknowledged that at least parts
of the country were going to need to take a tougher line.

“We can say and must say that our measures to date are insufficient to
really break the second wave,” he said in remarks reported by news agency DPA.Several officials have now called those holiday exceptions into question.

Gerald Gass, head of the association of German hospitals (DKG), warned of possible shortages in intensive care units, in comments to business daily Handelsblatt.

A woman walks through Passau's old town, where a stricter local lockdown has come into force, on Monday. Photo: DPA

More people getting together over the year-end holidays would likely “lead
to a rise in infections, with consequences for hospitals”, he said.

“On the basis of the current situation, I urgently warn against maintaining
the planned exceptions,” he said.

And the head of the parliamentary group for Merkel's Christian Democratic
Union party, Ralph Brinkhaus, said hotspots should seriously reconsider the 10-people threshold, calling it “highly risky”.

Under Germany's federal system, states are given leeway to set their own rules.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder on Sunday announced tougher measures including local curfews and partial school closures in the southern state.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre reported 12,332 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours on Monday, with numbers generally lower at the start of the week due to a weekend lag in reporting.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care nationwide has soared to more than 4,000 from just over 360 in early October.

READ ALSO: Will coronavirus hotspots in Germany face stricter measures at Christmas?


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