Germany has agreed a month-long partial shutdown from Monday to slow the spread of Covid-19 infections, which has reached a new record of nearly 15,000 cases daily.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the measures after a heated video conference with minister-presidents of Germany’s 16 federal states, who are largely responsible for public health matters.
Schools and kindergartens will remain open, as will hairdressers, banks, churches and smaller kiosks in the new lockdown. Gyms, pools, concert halls, theatres, bars and restaurants will close, amateur sport will cease and professional sports events can take place only without fans.
Shops must allow 10sq m floor space for each customer, and regulate access accordingly. Overnight stays within Germany are forbidden and inner-German travel is discouraged.
Social contacts must be reduced to a minimum under Germany’s new lockdown, with meetings permitted with only one other household – with a maximum of 10 people present. Private parties are “unacceptable”, said the ministers in their final agreement, and increased checks by authorities are likely.
“We have to act now,” said Dr Merkel, calling it a “hard day, including for politicians”. “If we stay at this rate of infection, we will arrive at the limits of our health system within weeks.”
Germany fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic and, compared to its neighbours, has seen lower rates of coronavirus spread of late. But a spike in numbers in recent days has doubled the number of intensive care patients within 10 days and pushed the total death toll to over 10,000.
To cushion the blow of a second lockdown, affected firms will be able to apply for funding to cover income losses, from a fund of €10 billion.
“We are in a new situation we may soon no longer be able to master,” said Olaf Scholz, the federal finance minister, announcing the measure.
Germany’s federal health minister Jens Spahn, himself recovering from Covid-19, said the time had come to flatten the curve of infection.
“Once the intensive care wards are full, it’s too late,” he told SWR public radio.
News of the shutdown has caused uproar among German business owners, in particular in the gastronomy and arts sectors.
The restaurant shutdown is particularly controversial given that a leaked paper by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main disease control body, said there was no evidence that the restaurant environment – applying the required restrictions – was conducive to virus transmission.
As politicians met, musicians and other artists protested in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin at what they see as the decimation of their sector and existence.
Federal authorities have made over €1 billion available in emergency arts funding, alongside state supports, but much is earmarked for subsidised arts venues, and not tailored for freelance artists.
“It’s not enough if we get loans,” said singer-songwriter Bernhard Brink, to the n-tv news channel, because most event organisers and musicians don’t have any kind of income and then they even end up having to repay the loans.”