German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following a virtual meeting between Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, December 2 2020. Picture: CHRISTAIN MARQUARDT/GETTY IMAGES
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following a virtual meeting between Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, December 2 2020. Picture: CHRISTAIN MARQUARDT/GETTY IMAGES

Berlin  —  Germany extended restrictive measures designed to stem a tide of new Covid-19 infections until January 10, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday after talks with German state leaders.

The measures, which had been due to expire on December 20, include keeping restaurants and hotels shut and limiting private gatherings to five people from two households.

“The states will extend their measures from December 20 until January 10,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that another round of consultations would be held on January 4. “In principle things will remain as they are.”

While the daily rise in infection numbers has started to fall, Germany reported its highest single-day death toll on Wednesday since the start of the pandemic, and regions that had been spared the worst are seeing case numbers surge.

More than 17,000 new cases were reported overnight, and 487 deaths.

Markus Soeder, leader of the southern state of Bavaria, said the high number of deaths justified keeping restrictions in place until January.

“Over the next few weeks we will also be considering whether all this is enough,” said Soeder.

Germany's many regional and central government bodies have been at odds over how strictly to impose lockdown, since cases were concentrated in the south and west of the country.

While Merkel has always been in favour of stricter lockdowns, many of the regional premiers who have the final say in Germany's federal system were opposed. This is beginning to change.

Other than a few, mainly northern areas, the entire country is well above the rate of 50 new infections per 100,000 population per week that the government says is the fastest the virus can spread without overwhelming track-and-trace systems.

Restrictions on gatherings will be eased slightly over Christmas to allow families to meet.

Elsewhere, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said skiing could take place but restaurants, hotels and tourist accommodation will stay closed until January 7.

Kurz was under pressure to cancel the skiing season as many resorts became breeding grounds for the coronavirus during the first wave of infections.

He also outlined a range of measures linked to the loosening of Austria's current coronavirus lockdown, which will switch back to a night-time curfew on Monday.

In an apparent concession to Rome, Berlin and Paris, which had expressed concern about cross-border trips, Austria also said it was introducing a new quarantine requirement for anyone arriving from their countries and many more. Until January 10 all arrivals in Austria from a country with more than 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the previous two weeks will have to go into 10 days' quarantine, which can be shortened if they test negative after five days in isolation, the government said in a statement.

That covers virtually all of Europe, including Germany, where the level is now above 300 and Italy, where it is above 600.

In Italy, the government banned midnight mass and movement between regions over the Christmas period, a top health ministry official said on Wednesday.

Junior health minister Sandra Zampa said Christmas Eve mass must end by around 8.30pm so that worshippers can return home before a 10pm curfew, and people should not invite non-family members home for Christmas lunch or other celebrations.

Reuters

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