Merkel eyes tough curbs to tame virus before Christmas

By: AFP      Published: 08:18 PM, 28 Oct, 2020
Merkel eyes tough curbs to tame virus before Christmas

Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking drastic new curbs, including fresh shutdowns hitting leisure, sports and the food and drink sectors, as she holds crisis talks Wednesday with Germany's regional leaders to halt surging coronavirus infections and save the Christmas holiday season.

The proposed restrictions to come in force from November 4 to the end of the month would limit contact outdoors to people from two households, according to a draft of planned measures seen by AFP.

Schools, daycare centres and shops will remain open, but hotels nights will be allowed only for "necessary and expressedly non-tourism purposes".

Bars, cafes, restaurants would have to shut, although takeaways and delivery services can continue. 

The aim is to "break the infection momentum, so that over Christmas, there will be no far-reaching restrictions with regards to personal contact and economic activities," according to the draft.

"Family and friends should be allowed to meet under corona-conditions over Christmas. This requires a common effort now, just like in spring," it added, in reference to the measures also imposed back then.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is working from home after testing positive for the virus, said urgent action was required.

"If we wait until the intensive care beds are full, then it will be too late," he told regional broadcaster Suedwestrundfunk. 

Europe's biggest economy coped relatively well with the first coronavirus wave earlier in the year but numbers have risen rapidly in recent weeks, as they have across the continent.

The tally of new daily cases now regularly crosses the 10,000 mark, and hit a new 24-hour record of 14,964 on Wednesday, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

That is still well below figures seen in neighbouring France, where daily cases have topped 50,000, or Belgium where hospitals are reaching capacity.

But Economy Minister Peter Altmaier warned Germany was seeing "exponential growth" in case numbers and would probably reach "20,000 new infections per day" by the end of the week.

'Do it right' 

Under the federal system, individual states have the final say on which restrictions to impose, and some less affected regions are likely to bristle at measures that inflict more economic pain.

The far-left premier of the eastern state of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, has already voiced opposition to Merkel's proposal.

A new shutdown would once again inflict the hardest blow to sectors which took the most painful hit in the spring.

Employees and bosses in the events industry marched on Wednesday in protest at new restrictions, while the federation of wholesalers and trade warned that shutting restaurants would sound the death knell for many small companies.

Two hard-hit districts in Bavaria have already gone back into lockdown, with schools, kindergartens and nurseries closed and people needing a valid reason to leave their homes.

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder, whose popularity has soared during the pandemic, said time was running out as he pleaded for tougher, nationally applicable rules.

"Better to do it now and do it right, than late and half-hearted," he said.

Several German cities have already taken the dramatic step of cancelling their Christmas markets this year, including the famous Nuremberg "Christkindlesmarkt" that usually attracts over two million visitors.

Hospital fears

Germany has recorded 464,239 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. A total of 10,183 people have died so far, according to RKI figures.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care meanwhile has surged from just under 400 in early October to 1,570 by Wednesday.

While there is no shortage of hospital beds or ventilators for now, the "much bigger problem" is a lack of medical staff, Uwe Janssens of the  Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) told the Funke media group.

Scientists from Germany's Leopoldina Academy, which has Merkel's ear, on Tuesday recommended "a drastic reduction in contacts" if the pandemic is to be checked.