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 said she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Sunday (local time) to step up the country’s lockdown measures from this Wednesday to January 10 to stop the country’s exponential rise of cases.

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Frank Jordans/AP

Restaurant takeout will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site from Wednesday.

“We are forced to act and we’re acting,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, noting that existing restrictions imposed in November had 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 November 28 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on December 12.

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Starting on Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or switch to homeschooling; 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 still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site.

With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Bernd von Jutrczenka/AP

Chancellor (second from right) has announced a strict lockdown, meaning public life in Germany will be drastically reduced from Wednesday.

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, which said they wouldn’t be able to treat the large number of serious injuries that result every year from mishandled explosives.

“We need to be careful that Germany doesn’t become the problem child of Europe,” he said.

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Sebastian Gollnow/AP

A police officer in Stuttgart, Germany, waves a car out during a traffic control to comply with corona-related exit restrictions that came into effect on Saturday.

Germany has set new records in the number of confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks. Overall it has had about 22,000 virus deaths, a toll that is one-third that of Italy and Britain.

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 amounted to 11.2 billion euros (NZ$19.1 billion).

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Bernd von Jutrczenka/AP

“We are forced to act and we’re acting,” Chancellor has told reporters in Berlin.

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, although singing will be banned.

Staff in nursing homes will be required to take tests several times a week and visitors to the homes will have to provide a negative test result before being able to see relatives..

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Michael Probst/AP

Christmas trees for sale on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany on Sunday as the news spread about a Christmas holiday lockdown.

The German Hospital Federation welcomed the new measures but called it “difficult to comprehend” why the European Medicines Agency had not yet approved the first coronavirus vaccine.

Britain, Canada and the United States have already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the UK began vaccinations last week.

Hospitals in the hard-hit eastern region around Dresden have appealed for people to responsibly follow social distancing and mask-wearing, saying medical facilities were about to hit full capacity.

No singing, no fireworks: Germany heading into Christmas Covid lockdown

Michael Probst/AP

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 November 28 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on December 12.

“Nurses and doctors are already at their physical and psychological limits,” the hospitals stated in newspaper ads.

Three counties in Saxony, where Dresden is located, have reported rates of infection more than 10 times as high as the government’s target. The state has been a hotbed of protests against coronavirus restrictions.

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