Germany enters tougher lockdown as virus deaths hit new high

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BERLIN (AP) – Germany reported a record high level of coronavirus deaths as it entered a more difficult lockdown on Wednesday, closing shops and schools to try to curb stubbornly high new daily infections.

The country has recorded 179.8 virus deaths per 100,000 population in the past seven days, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago by the Robert Koch Institute, the control center diseases of the country.

It also surpassed its previous daily toll, with all 16 German states reporting that 952 more people had died from the virus, the institute said. This was well above the previous daily record set Friday of 598 deaths, although it included two days of figures from the hard-hit state of Saxony, which did not release Tuesday. This brought the total number of deaths from the pandemic in the country to 23,427.

Faced with an exponential increase in cases in October, Germany implemented a “light lockdown” in early November, which closed bars and restaurants but left shops open. The measures succeeded in stabilizing new daily infections but did not reduce them, resulting in new, stricter restrictions.

Along with closing stores and transferring children to distance learning during the few days leading up to the Christmas holidays, private gatherings are limited to two households with a maximum of five people, among others.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks and other businesses providing services deemed essential – including Christmas tree vendors – may remain open.

In Saxony, where the virus is currently spreading fastest in Germany, hospitals are filling up. The state governor said more drastic restrictions might be needed, calling it “pure poison” as too many people still came out.

The restrictions are expected to last at least until January 10, but enjoy broad support, with the latest polls showing more than 80% of Germans either approve of the lockdown measures or believe they should be tighter.

“This year, I don’t think Christmas is that important, given the facts we are currently experiencing in society,” said Stella Kretschmer, who was taking a prescription in the western city of Cologne.

The 27-year-old student said she was in favor of closing stores.

“For me, consumption is not the most important thing”, she said, adding however that she “felt sorry for the people who… have to fear for their work”.

Germany has been widely praised for slowing the spread of its epidemic in the spring, but as people loosened up with distance and mask rules over the summer, the number of cases has started to rise again.

While daily new cases peaked in March at around 6,000, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 new cases reported by the Robert Koch Institute on Wednesday.

German officials have pressured the European Union’s regulatory agency to speed up its approval of a vaccine against the coronavirus, and the European Medicines Agency has scheduled a meeting on the matter on Monday. With vaccinations due to start before the end of the year, German officials have urged people to remain patient and adhere to regulations during the holidays.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said Germany was ready and could start vaccinations within two to four days of EMA approval.

“By the summer, we will be able to return to normal, step by step,” he said on RTL on Wednesday.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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