Germany extends lockdown as daily Covid deaths hit record high

Europe struggles to reduce infection rate in the run-up to Christmas

epa08841411 A handout photo made available by the German government shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Mayor of Berlin Michael Mueller at the start of a video call with German Federal State Premiers over the current coronavirus situation and planned measures to stem the pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, 25 November 2020. On screen, North-Rhine Westphalia's Premier Armin Laschet is seen.  EPA/GUIDO BERGMANN / GERMAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Powered by automated translation

Germany on Wednesday extended its “lockdown light” until at least December 20 just as coronavirus deaths hit a record high.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the mandatory closure of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities would be extended in the run-up to Christmas. The initial measures were first put in place earlier in November.

State leaders agreed, however, to a plan to allow family gatherings of up to 10 people over Christmas.

Germany's extension of its partial lockdown comes as neighbouring France on Tuesday night announced it would start easing lockdown from the weekend.

Across the English Channel, England will emerge from lockdown on December 2 and Britons will be allowed to form "Christmas bubbles" of three households for five days over the festive season.

Germany, which successfully contained the first wave, has struggled with a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

The daily death toll rose to a record 410 on Wednesday, up from 305 fatalities a week ago, and just 49 on November 2, the day restaurants and bars were forced to close.

Another 18,633 cases were registered in the previous 24 hours – 5,015 fewer than the record increase reported on Friday.

State leaders sounded the alarm over the possibility of hospitals being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

“The situation in the hospitals is worrying... We cannot guarantee medical care at this high level (of infections),” Saxony premier Michael Kretschmer told German radio.

General practitioner Kerem Erekul holds a swab for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing at the cellar of his office, formerly used as a World War Two shelter, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Berlin, Germany November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Health authorities warned hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed. Reuters 

The lockdown light, as it is known, keeps bars, restaurants and entertainment venues shut while schools and shops are allowed to stay open.

In Spain, meanwhile, authorities were considering limiting Christmas celebrations to a maximum of six people to prevent a surge of infections.

While the rate of infection in Spain has slowed in the past month, its overall tally of almost 1.6 million cases is the second highest in western Europe after France.

Elsewhere in Europe, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg resisted pressure to remove restrictions for at least another three weeks, even though the country has the fourth-lowest infection rate in Europe.

She said her country "must hold on" until authorities can offer vaccines to vulnerable groups.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Ms Solberg said.

Lithuania also extended its coronavirus lockdown until December 17 as cases surge.

Bulgaria on Wednesday imposed a lockdown until December 21.