BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will close shops from the middle of next week in a tightening of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
The decision came ahead of a meeting planned for Sunday morning between Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders as Europe’s largest economy grapples with a rise in infections.
Germany has been in partial lockdown for six weeks, with bars and restaurants closed, while stores and schools have remained open. Some regions have already imposed tougher measures as infections grew.
Markus Soeder, the premier of Bavaria, told Germany’s Bild newspaper that the new measures would be wide-ranging, including schools, kindergartens, contacts and shops.
“We definitely have to take the necessary measures before mid-week,” he said.
Germany was more successful than many European countries in keeping the pandemic under control in the first wave in March and April. But it has been struggling to turn the tide in the second wave with what has been dubbed a “lockdown lite”.
Daily new infections have climbed to 28,438, while the daily death toll was 496, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday.
“We must take steps in the coming days that are very far-reaching and very hard-hitting,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told members of his Social Democratic party at an online event.
Opponents of lockdown measures have regularly protested in German cities over curbs. On Saturday, police in Frankfurt and Dresden were dressed in riot gear and armed with water cannon to enforce a ban on such demonstrations.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the RND newspaper group on Saturday that hospital intensive care units were beginning to be stretched to their limits and that Germany could not wait until after Christmas to react.
Merkel has favoured stricter pan-German measures but was unable to get agreement from the nation’s 16 states.
But some states have since clamped down on their own.
Starting Saturday, a night curfew will be in force in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, except for people going out to work and for essential reasons.
(Additional reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Tom Sims; Editing by Mark Potter, Toby Chopra, Frances Kerry and Alex Richardson)