BERLIN: Germany will impose an emergency month-long lockdown that includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres to reverse a spike in coronavirus cases that risks overwhelming hospitals, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday (Oct 28).
"We need to take action now," she said, adding that the recent steep rise in infection numbers had generated sufficient political and public support for new tough measures to reduce social contacts and suppress outbreaks.
Effective Nov 2, private gatherings will be limited to 10 people from a maximum of two households. Restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, pools and gyms will be shut and concerts cancelled.
Professional sports events will be allowed to be held only without spectators. People will be asked not to travel for private, non-essential reasons, and overnight stays in hotels will be available only for necessary business trips.
Schools and daycare centres will however remain open, as will shops, so long as they stick to social distancing and hygiene rules. The nationwide rules replace a confusing patchwork of regional measures.
To make the measures more palatable especially for smaller companies, Germany will offer financial aid to those hurt by the new restrictions.
Under a new €10-billion (US$11.82 billion) aid package, companies with up to 50 employees will receive 75 per cent of their year-earlier revenues for the month of November.
In addition, self-employed workers such as artists and stage hands will receive access to emergency loans, and the government will expand an existing liquidity programme to give small firms with less than 10 employees access to very cheap loans.
Germany, with Europe's largest economy, was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis but is now in the midst of a second wave, like much of the rest of Europe.
Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, Germany's infections diseases agency, the Robert Koch Institute, said on Wednesday.
Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, heightening fears for the health system after Merkel warned it could hit breaking point if infections continue to spiral.
"Our health system can still cope with this challenge today, but at this speed of infections it will reach the limits of its capacity within weeks," the conservative chancellor said.
Merkel added that health authorities were no longer able to trace the origin of around 75 per cent of infections, which made it difficult to say which measures exactly would have the most effective impact.
Germany is now counting on a four-week, partial shutdown to help flatten the curve of infections.
"Our hope is that if we manage to do this for four weeks, that we then have a chance to halt this dramatic development, that we have a chance to regain a bit of security," Berlin mayor Michael Mueller said.
Merkel and Germany's 16 state government leaders will reconvene two weeks into the partial lockdown to assess how effective the measures decided on Wednesday are.