German public broadly behind new lockdown as shops and schools shut

Germany weighs new restrictions as coronavirus cases jump

A new lockdown that started in Germany on Wednesday, under which all but essential shops have been forced to close and schoolchildren are to return to remote learning, is backed by 73 per cent of the public, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by dpa.

The sweeping closures and restrictions come on top of a partial lockdown initiated in early November, which failed to reverse the country’s rising trend in infections.

The tougher lockdown is to stay in place until January 10 at the earliest, following an agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the premiers of the nation’s 16 states.

An existing limit on group gatherings remains, with a maximum of five people from two households allowed to meet.

That rule is however to be relaxed from December 24-26 to allow close families to celebrate Christmas together.

Just 20 per cent of those polled in the YouGov survey rejected the measures, while 7 per cent made no comment.

Even among supporters of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right opposition party leading criticism of the government’s pandemic response in parliament, 51 per cent supported the lockdown, while 43 per cent were against it.

Nevertheless, the authorities in the eastern city of Leipzig began preparing for a planned demonstration on Saturday by the Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement which opposes the restrictions.

The city issued an order on Wednesday banning all outdoor gatherings in the city on Saturday that have not been notified to the authorities by noon on Thursday.

A Querdenken protest in Leipzig on November 7 saw 20,000 demonstrators gather, most of them refusing to wear masks, observe the requisite social distancing or stick to the route laid down.

Following criticism of police failure to intervene, a spokesperson said officers would be out in force on Saturday without providing details.

The nationwide restrictions came into effect on the same day that Germany reported a record number of deaths due to the coronavirus.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country’s national agency for disease control, said on Wednesday that 952 people had died over a 24-hour period after catching the virus.

However, it also noted that the eastern state of Saxony – currently one of the country’s worst-hit regions in the pandemic – was delayed in passing on its data earlier in the week, which could in some part explain the surge in deaths.

Germany’s last record death toll in the pandemic was 598, reported last Friday.

The RKI also added another 27,728 new infections to the country’s total caseload so far.

Close to 1.4 million people are known to have caught the virus in Germany, over 23,400 of whom had died as of Wednesday.

Under the partial lockdown that started on November 2, restaurants and bars had closed but many adapted during the advent season to offer snacks and mulled wine to go.

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The tougher approach puts an end to such festivities by enforcing a ban on consuming alcohol in public. Restaurants can still serve takeaway food on the condition that customers eat it at home.

The rules are particularly strict on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, when all gatherings are banned. The use of fireworks is also being heavily restricted, in part to lighten the load on hospitals, which are already filling up with Covid-19 patients.

Local media reported that one hospital in Saxony had already had to prioritize access to oxygen for seriously ill patients due to stretched capacity, citing comments given by a top medical official in an online forum.

While she was unable to confirm that specific case in the city of Zittau, Saxon state health minister Petra Koepping called such reports a “wake-up call.”

“Soon we won’t know any more how we are supposed to care for the patients,” Koepping said in the regional capital Dresden.

A dpa survey on Wednesday of Germany’s 16 states, which are responsible for implementing health measures, revealed they are planning up to 440 vaccination points in total once the vaccines have been approved by the EU authorities.

Tens of thousands of doctors and other medical personnel have volunteered for duty in the centres.

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