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Germany’s COVID-19 deaths hit record high as Merkel backs tougher restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech in the Bundestag in Berlin on Wednesday.
(Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated tougher restrictions on public life Wednesday and pleaded with her compatriots to cut down on socializing as the country reported its highest single-day death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany is gradually moving toward a tighter lockdown, at least for a limited period after Christmas, as new coronavirus infections remain stubbornly high — and are even beginning to creep higher — despite a partial shutdown that started Nov. 2.

The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 590 deaths related to COVID-19 over the last 24 hours — more than 100 higher than the week-old previous record. It counted 20,815 new daily infections, compared with 17,270 a week earlier.

Germany, which has 83 million people and was lauded for its coronavirus response early on in the pandemic, has now recorded nearly 1.22 million cases, including 19,932 deaths. Those figures remain far lower than the caseloads and death tolls in other European countries such as France, Spain and Britain.

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“We are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic,” Merkel told lawmakers Wednesday.

“The figures are at much too high a level,” she said, looking visibly frustrated. She described as “very alarming” the rising number of people requiring intensive care and dying.

The U.K. says two people with a ‘significant history’ of allergic reactions responded adversely to Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot but are ‘recovering well.’

Merkel has consistently advocated decisive action to fight the pandemic but has often had to move more slowly because, in highly decentralized Germany, the country’s 16 state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. She and the state governors meet periodically to coordinate measures.

Restaurants, bars and leisure and sports facilities are currently closed in Germany, and hotels are closed to tourists. Schools and nonessential shops remain open.

Last spring, Germany managed to avoid the high number of infections and grim death tolls seen in other large European nations, but the current trend is not encouraging. Its rate of new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days now surpasses that of France, Belgium and Spain, and is about level with Britain, but still well below Italy, Sweden and many others, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Merkel noted that a national academy of scientists and academics recommended Tuesday that Germans reduce their social contacts starting next week and put in place a “hard lockdown” from Dec. 24 to Jan. 10.

“We would do well to really take seriously what scientists tell us,” she said.

The German government is preparing to roll out a nationwide coronavirus vaccine program as it hits the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases.

Merkel called for state governments to consider closing schools early before Christmas and said that people hopping from one mulled-wine stand to the next over the holidays is “unacceptable” in view of the daily death figures.

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and then it’s our last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have been negligent,” she said.

Some state governors are already moving to toughen restrictions. The eastern state of Saxony, currently the worst-hit, will close schools and most stores Monday until Jan. 10. Its southern neighbor, Bavaria, is introducing measures such as a nighttime curfew in its worst-affected areas and demanding more home-schooling and stricter border controls.

Most Germans have supported restrictions and mask-wearing requirements, although a small but vocal minority opposes them. There have been protests that have drawn a wide variety of participants, including right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists.

On Wednesday, domestic intelligence officials in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said they were putting a group organizing those protests, Querdenken 711, under formal observation.

The group insists that it is not extremist. But Beate Bube, the head of the state’s domestic intelligence agency, said the group has membership and ideological overlaps with known right-wing extremist groups.

“Extremist, conspiracy ideology and anti-Semitic content are being deliberately mixed with legitimate criticism of state measures to contain the corona pandemic,” she said.


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