German officials are suggesting that residents should forgo Christmas shopping and consider attending Christmas Mass online rather than in person.  Meanwhile, its neighbor to the northwest, the Netherlands, is preparing to impose its own strict new lockdown measures starting beginning at midnight Tuesday.

German Chancellor and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to tighten lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running through at least Jan. 10. 

Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or will switch to homeschooling; most stores that do not sell food will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers. Restaurant takeout will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site.

“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

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 to celebrate New Year’s will also be banned as will public outdoor gatherings on New Year’s Eve.

President appealed to Germans to support the new lockdown measures.

“The virus still has a tight grip on us,” he said. “The situation is bitterly serious: Thousands of death cases in one week and an infection scenario that threatens to spin out of control. There is no way we can avoid drastic measures.”

Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks.

On Monday, the country’s central disease control center reported 16,362 new cases — that’s about 4,000 cases more than a week before. The Robert Koch Institute reported 188 new deaths bringing the overall death toll to 21,975.

Hospitals across the country had in recent weeks repeatedly warned that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem.

Expressing impatience, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in tweets late Sunday that Germany, which has created more than 400 vaccination centers and has activated about 10,000 doctors and medical staff to start mass vaccinations as early as Tuesday, was hamstrung by the lack of regulatory approval.

It was especially galling because the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer has been authorized for use in Britain, the United States, Canada and other countries. But it’s still waiting for approval by the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, and can therefore not be used in Germany yet or in any of the EU’s 27 nations.

The EMA has a Dec. 29 meeting on vaccines but Spahn said the agency’s assessment and approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should “take place as quickly as possible.”

Spahn’s ministry said Monday that Germany was ready to give 3 million to 4 million BioNTech vaccination doses in January and up to 11 million doses in the first quarter of 2021.

In the meantime, Michael Kretschmer, the governor of Saxony, told the German news agency DPA that this Christmas, for the first time in his life, he won’t be attending midnight Mass. 

“I don’t need it for my belief and I think it is right if all of us hold off during this sensitive time,” Kretschmer said. “Joseph and Mary were also on their own on the Holy Night.”

Netherlands enters lockdown mode at midnight Monday 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte imposed a tough new five-week nationwide lockdown Monday, saying schools, nonessential shops, museums and gyms will close down at midnight until Jan. 19.

From Tuesday, all non-essential shops will close until Jan. 19 along with businesses such as hair salons, museums and theaters. 

“We have to bite through this very sour apple before things get better,” a somber Rutte said in a televised address to the nation as the whistles of protesters could be heard outside. “The reality is that this is is not an innocent flu as some people – like the demonstrators outside – think,” Rutte said. “But a virus that can hit everybody hard.”

The government also urged people to receive a maximum of two guests over the age of 13 per day, but relaxed the rule slightly for Dec. 24-26, saying three people can visit on those normally festive days.

As news of the looming lockdown leaked out before Rutte’s speech, many people keen to take their last chance at Christmas shopping flocked into city centers.

Germany asks citizens not to go Christmas shopping; Netherlands goes into lockdown mode

Bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October, although many restaurants, cafes and coffee shops have offered takeout sales. The partial lockdown initially slowed high infection rates, but they have been rising again in recent days.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Netherlands has risen over the past two weeks from 29.22 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 29 to 47.47 per 100,000 people on Dec. 13.

“It’s serious. It’s very serious,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Monday ahead of a Cabinet meeting to discuss action to rein in the spread of the virus. “We see the infection numbers rising sharply in recent days, we see that hospital admissions are increasing again, the pressure on the health care sector remains high.”

Around 10,000 people in the Netherlands are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak.

Rutte said that with vaccinations starting in the new year, 2021 would be a year “of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel.”

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