BERLIN — Most stores shut, tight limits on social contacts, no singing in church and a ban on fireworks sales: Germany is ratcheting up its pandemic restrictions in an effort to cut the stubbornly high rate of coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she and the governors of Germany's 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country's lockdown measures from Dec. 16 to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases.
"We are forced to act, and we're acting too," Merkel told reporters in Berlin, noting that existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Germany has risen over the past two weeks from 21.23 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 28 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 12.
Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers that have so far been allowed to remain open; restaurant takeout will remain permitted, but consumption on-site — including of alcoholic beverages — will be banned.
With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.
The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year's will also be banned, as will public outdoor gatherings on New Year's Eve.
Bavaria's governor, Markus Soeder, said the ban on fireworks followed appeals from hospitals that they wouldn't be able to treat the large number of serious injuries that result from mishandled explosives every year.
The overall measures were necessary to prevent the number of new cases and deaths rising further, he said, adding: "We need to be careful that Germany doesn't become the problem child of Europe."
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the government would provide further financial support for businesses affected by the lockdown. German news agency dpa reported that the additional sums set aside amounted to 11.2 billion euros ($13.6 billion).
Employers will be asked to let staff work from home, where possible, for the next month.
Religious services will be permitted, provided minimum distancing rules are in place and masks are worn, though singing will be banned.
Staff in nursing homes will be required to take COVID-19 tests several times a week, and visitors will also have to provide a negative test result before being able to see relatives in care.