Is Germany set for a post-Christmas full lockdown?
After Chancellor Angela Merkel's emotional plea for tougher coronavirus restrictions, calls have been growing for a full lockdown in Germany. Here's what you need to know.
Germany is grappling with daily high coronavirus rates and a rising number of deaths. On Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute reported 23,679 cases within 24 hours in Germany – a record number. A further 440 people died during this period.
After Chancellor Merkel's emotional appeal for stricter rules to get the situation under control, Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder also called for a "complete lockdown" from Christmas until January 10th. Other heads of state as well as medical experts and doctors are also putting pressure on the government.
What would the lockdown look like?
Merkel said shops and schools should close – or move to digital classes – after Christmas until at least January 10th.
For the lockdown to be effective, people in Germany would likely be asked to stay at home as much as possible and only leave for essential reasons, such as to exercise or go to the doctor.
The states of Bavaria and Saxony currently already have lockdowns in place. But Bavarian premier Söder said nationwide action was needed.
"Just shut down everything, from the shops to the company holidays in many firms," said Söder. "If everyone participates, that would be great. Then we would have just under three weeks in which we could simply reduce contacts. You won't find a better time than this between Christmas and January 10th all year round."
After a meeting earlier this month, Chancellor Merkel and the 16 state leaders were not due to meet again until January 4th. But in view of the alarming situation in Germany, talks will likely take place at the weekend or early next week when Merkel returns from the EU summit.
Saxony's state premier Michael Kretschmer said he hoped all states and the government could reach an agreement, and referred to the measures already being taken in the eastern state.
"We have now decided on our Saxon path and will follow it with consistency," said Kretschmer.
Schools, childcare centres and shops are to close from Monday in a bid to bring the numbers down after the state became the largest hotspot of the pandemic nationwide.
In Bavaria, which also has above-average infection rates compared to other federal states, stricter rules such as curfews in hotspots and bans on alcohol in city centres have been in force since Wednesday.
What about other states and experts?
It's not only the most affected states that are thinking about a lockdown: in Schleswig-Holstein, where infection rates are rising but are still low by national standards, there is also talk of tougher rules.
It is necessary "that we go into a hard lockdown from Christmas at the latest – to use the time over the turn of the year to stop this dangerous development in Germany," said state premier Daniel Günther on Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn also said that the country needs at least two weeks at the turn of the year "where we reduce contacts overall, shut down.. close schools".
Germany's National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, which has been advising leaders on how to deal with the crisis, earlier this week published an urgent appeal to politicians. They called for a hard lockdown in Germany to deal with the worsening situation.
The head of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, also spoke out in favour of this.
Gaß said: "The big opportunity for a hard lockdown over three weeks (during the festive period) is that infected people will no longer come into contact with healthy people. Then the virus has no chance to spread," Gaß told the Passauer Neue Presse.
He described the number of coronavirus deaths as "alarmingly high". "More people are dying than normal and we are experiencing excess mortality. Many people, especially the elderly, have lost years of life."
What about Christmas?
Currently only five people from two households are allowed to meet until January 10th, although these rules are set to be loosened between December 23rd and January 1st. Depending on the state, up to 10 people will be allowed to meet, with children under 14 exempt from the rule.
Some states, such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, have narrowed their window of exception to December 24th until December 26th, whereas others such as Berlin have restricted the number of people who can gather together to five.
As the situation is so bad, many people are wondering if the restrictions should be relaxed at all.
The National Academy warned against easing rules during the festive period.
Without specifying the total number of participants that should be permitted at a celebration, the Academy researchers said that "contacts should only take place in a very close circle of family or friends, limited to a few people" – and added: these contacts should remain "unchanged over the entire period".
This would mean that travel and visiting different relatives and friends over the holidays would not be allowed.
In a poll on Twitter by The Local, the majority of people said rules shouldn't be relaxed, and that tougher action was needed.
Poll: Should Germany still relax contact restrictions over Christmas and New Year in view of the high daily virus infection rates and increasing number of deaths?— The Local Germany (@TheLocalGermany) December 9, 2020
It remains to be seen what the government and states decide about all the restrictions. But it appears as if a post-Christmas lockdown is on the cards.