Germany Corona Coronavirus - Free image on Pixabay

Germany has extended and tightened the closure in the country, with stricter restrictions on social contacts, in an attempt by Europe's leading economy to combat the spread of the corona virus. From today (Tuesday) all schools, leisure and sports facilities and non-essential shops will be closed, until 31 January.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a tightening of the closure following talks with the country's 16 provincial leaders. Under the new rules, people will be allowed to meet with one person from another household, instead of five people as allowed so far.

In addition, more than 15 km of travel will be banned for those living in counties where more than 200 corona cases have been diagnosed per 100,000 people in the last 7 days. "The steps we have agreed on are drastic," Merkel said, adding that "they are tougher."

The chancellor acknowledged that the restrictions would be severe, especially for working parents who would have to endure weeks of children in homeschooling, but stressed that the measures imposed on Germany were "necessary" to reduce morbidity to more possible dimensions, of 50 per 100,000 people. "Winter is the time when an epidemic can have the worst impact, and with the combination of the virus and the mutation it is an absolutely necessary step."

All districts in Germany agreed to intensify enforcement, with the emphasis mainly on areas where the mutation had reached. All those entering the country from risk areas will be required to undergo an examination before entering, in addition to the current requirement to undergo self-isolation which can only be terminated by a negative examination, five days after arrival.

Merkel and regional leaders will hold additional talks on Jan. 25 to rethink and decide whether to keep the regulations in place until Feb. 1. After a daily record of more than a thousand deaths from Corona was set on December 30, pressure increased across Germany to slow the spread of the disease, which has already claimed more than 35,000 lives.

The second wave has hit the elderly hard, and regional authorities have reported that hospitals are nearing the end of their hospitalization capabilities. In a speech she gave on television on New Year's Eve, Merkel warned the Germans of a harsh winter.

She stressed that "the challenges posed by the epidemic remain enormous." Germany, the most populous country in the EU, managed to cope better than most of its neighbors during the first wave of the plague, and the death toll in the country is still lower than in countries like Italy, France or Spain.

However, epidemiologists say that complacency from the same relative success and unwillingness to implement the most drastic measures, have probably contributed to an exponential spread of the virus in the fall. Since the state began its vaccination campaign on December 26, some 317,000 people have received the first of two vaccine doses.

The German media and even the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel's government, have slammed criticism for what they call a too slow operation of the vaccination campaign. Critics have accused the government of relying too much on joint action with the EU.

At the start of the election year, Social Democrat leaders demanded answers from German Health Minister Jens Schpan, why "the European Commission has ordered so few vaccines" and why "Germany has not ordered the surplus from EU use".

A recent poll found that 44% of Germans were unconvinced of the government's immunization strategy, while about 40% were "very confident" that this was the right approach. Merkel, who defended Shapan, said the state has taken "proper action" in various areas around vaccine procurement and management, whether on the constitutional or manufacturing front. "I can only rejoice that the Minister of Health is so active," she said.

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