BERLIN (AP) — The German government called on citizens Monday to forgo Christmas shopping, two days before the country heads into a hard lockdown that will shut most stores, tighten social distancing rules and close schools across the country.
“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said late Sunday. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks.
On Monday, the country’s central disease control center reported 16,362 new cases — that’s about 4,000 cases more than a week before. The Robert Koch Institute reported 188 new deaths bringing the overall death toll to 21,975. Last week, the daily death numbers rose to almost 600 cases, but after the weekend the numbers are usually lower because not all states reported new figures on the weekend.
Hospitals across the country had in recent weeks repeatedly warned that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem. On Monday, 4,552 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care in the country, 52 percent of them on respirators.
In some states, including Saxony in eastern Germany and North Rhine-Westphalia in the west, schools already are closed or mandatory school attendance lifted so parents can keep their children at home.
Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or will switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers that have so far been allowed to remain open. Restaurant takeout will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site.
With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.
The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year’s will also be banned, as will public outdoor gatherings on New Year’s Eve.
Top officials were also appealing to Christians to stay home and watch the traditional Christmas Mass online this year to avoid the further spread of the virus among congregations.
Michael Kretschmer, governor of the eastern state of Saxony, which is currently especially hard hit by the pandemic, told German news agency dpa that this Christmas he would for the first time in his life not attend Midnight Mass.
“I don’t need it for my belief and I think it is right if all of us hold off during this sensitive time” Kretschmer said. ”Joseph and Mary were also on their own on the Holy Night.”