Merkel eyes tough new curbs to tame virus before end of year

BERLIN (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking drastic new curbs, including fresh shutdowns hitting leisure, sports and the food sectors, in crisis talks yesterday with Germany’s regional leaders to halt surging coronavirus infections and save the end of year 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, daycares and shops will remain open, but hotels will be allowed to offer overnight stays only for “necessary and expressedly non-tourist purposes”.

Cafes and restaurants would have to shut, although takeaways and delivery services can keep going.

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.

A woman wearing a face mask walks over a bridge with the buildings of the banking district in background in Frankfurt, Germany. PHOTO: AP

“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.

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 will inflict more economic pain.

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

Germany’s tally of new daily cases now regularly crosses the 10,000 mark, 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 that Germany was seeing “exponential growth” in case numbers and would probably reach “20,000 new infections per day” by the end of the week.

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.