Merkel holds Covid-19 crisis talks as Germany’s infection rate increases

Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold crisis talks on Sunday with regional leaders in Germany’s 16 states to agree on tougher curbs, including the closure of stores before Christmas, as coronavirus infections increase steadily.

The drastic measures against stores other than those that sell essential goods would be introduced from Wednesday to at least January 10, according to a draft from Merkel’s office seen by AFP.

Schools can also be shut down and send students to homeschooling, while companies are urged to allow employees to work from home during the period.

Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder, who has pushed for tougher measures, expressed support for the measures.

“The numbers are worse than ever, we must not get caught up in individual measures,” he told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Together with Merkel, Soeder has for several weeks been striving for stricter restrictions and warned that the current round of closures affecting theaters, cinemas, gyms and indoor food was not far-reaching enough.

But the implementation of the restrictions is in the hands of individual states, and some regions where infection levels were lower would have been resistant to tough curbs.

However, the mood tipped in the last week after Germany registered new daily death tolls reaching close to 600.

The country’s disease control chief Lothar Wieler warned on Thursday that the infection trend had taken a worrying turn.

“The increase in numbers is worrying,” said Robert Koch, president of the Robert Koch Institute, warning that after plateaus for a few weeks, “the course of the infection could tip again” to exponential growth.

‘Last Christmas?’

Germany has introduced much less stringent suspension rules than other major European countries after undergoing the first wave of the pandemic relatively unharmed.

But Europe’s largest economy has been hit hard by a second wave of daily new infections more than three times as high as in the spring.

Germany registered another 20,200 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, reaching a total of 1,320,716 cases, according to RKI data published on Sunday.

Another 321 patients died of the disease from a day earlier and the total number of deaths was 21,787.

In a hard-hitting speech before the Bundestag on Wednesday, Merkel issued a strong warning to the Germans ahead of the Christmas holiday when families are expected to gather.

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it’s the last Christmas with the grandparents, we really would have failed,” she said.

Merkel’s government has repeatedly said that the number must be reduced to 50 per 100,000 people, but the proportion is currently 169.1 per 100,000.

Before the talks, Germany’s hardest-hit states have already ordered new measures.

Saxony, where the incidence in some areas has reached 500 per 100,000, will keep shops and schools closed from Monday.

A curfew will also start from 22:00 to 06:00.

(AFP)