Germany reported a record number of deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, the first day of a new partial lockdown to try to halt a surge in infections.
A total of 952 people died in the previous 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre.
It said 27,728 new coronavirus cases were registered, a figure close to the daily record of nearly 30,000 infections reported on Friday.
Saxony, a region with some of Germany’s highest rates of infection, was not included in Tuesday’s figures, potentially boosting the latest numbers.
Some 83 percent of critical care beds in hospitals were occupied on Wednesday, the country’s intensive care and emergency medicine association (DIVI) said.
The new restrictions, including closures of schools and non-essential shops, demonstrate the seriousness of the situation in Europe’s largest economy, as measures are ramped up in the run-up to Christmas — as elsewhere in Europe.
In Britain, London’s pubs, restaurants and hotels have been forced to close for the third time this year; Denmark has moved to a partial lockdown for the whole country; and in the Netherlands, a five-week lockdown came into effect on Tuesday.
In France, where bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been closed since the end of October, the curfew now runs from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
– ‘We’re staying at home’ –
Germany coped relatively well with the first wave in the spring but has been unable to stop the spread of a resurgent virus in recent months.
The latest restrictions will apply until at least January 10, with companies also urged to allow employees to work from home or to offer extended company holidays.
Authorities want to “implement the principle of ‘we’re staying at home’”, according to the policy paper agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state premiers.
Social contacts will have to remain restricted over the Christmas period from December 24 to 26, when meetings will only be possible between close family members.
New Year’s Eve festivities will also be curtailed, with the sale of fireworks and gatherings banned.
– Merkel worried –
Ahead of the closure of most retail stores until next year, Germans rushed to queue up for last-chance Christmas shopping.
“I hope that the shopping on Monday and Tuesday will not penalise us,” said Angela Merkel at a meeting with her conservative parliamentary group.
“The curve (of infections) is very bad,” she said, participants told AFP.
“The vaccine will help us”, but the evolution of the pandemic remains unpredictable, she added.
Her government has pressured the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ahead of Christmas.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday that he hoped vaccinations would begin before the end of the year in Germany.
“We will be able to return gradually to normal from the summer onwards,” Spahn told broadcaster RTL on Wednesday.
But the chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, expected containment measures to continue “at least until Easter”.
“Even if vaccinations start earlier than expected, the effect will only be gradual,” he told the Funke media group.