Germany Cancels Christmas as Country Plunges into New National Lockdown
Chancellor Angela Merkel announces tough new measures over festive season
Citizens of Germany have just seen their hopes of a "normal" Christmas evaporate after it was announced the country is set to plunge into a strict new national lockdown for the festive period.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is enforcing the desperate measures as the government bids to drive down soaring COVID-19 infection rates.
Across the country, all "non-essential" shops, hair salons, and schools will close.
Strict limits on social contact will also be enforced.
Chancellor Merkel said she and the governors of Germany's 16 states agreed to step up the country's lockdown measures from December 16 to January 10 to stop the exponential rise of coronavirus cases.
On Saturday, Germany recorded 20,200 newly confirmed cases and 321 additional deaths, a high number for the weekend when many local authorities don't report figures.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Germany has risen over the past two weeks from 21.23 new cases per 100,000 people on November 28 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on December 12, according to reports.
With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.
Companies have also been urged to allow employees to work from home or offer extended company holidays.
Alcohol sales will be banned in public places, essentially outlawing the business of mulled wine stands, which have proved popular in the days running up to Christmas.
Restaurant takeout will remain permitted, but consumption on-site will be banned.
The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year's will also be banned.
"The corona situation is out of control," said Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder, welcoming the tougher restrictions which he pledged to implement in his state.
Germany in November closed leisure and cultural facilities and banned indoor dining in restaurants.
The measures had helped to halt the rapid growth of infections after the autumn school holidays, but numbers had plateaued at a high rate.
Over the last week, however, the country's disease control agency reported that the infections trend has taken a worrying turn.
"With increasing mobility and the therefore linked additional contacts in the pre-Christmas period, Germany is now in exponential growth of infections numbers," said the policy paper agreed by regional leaders and Merkel.
It was, therefore, "our task to prevent an overload of our health systems and that's why there is an urgent need to take action," said the chancellor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the government would provide further financial support for businesses affected by the lockdown.
German news agency DPA reported that the additional sums set aside amounted to 11.2 billion euros ($13.6 billion).
Religious services will be permitted, provided minimum distancing rules are in place and masks are worn, though singing will be banned.
Staff in nursing homes will be required to take COVID-19 tests several times a week, and visitors will also have to provide a negative test result before being able to see relatives in care.