Germany's Merkel plans stricter contact rules to stem Covid-19 spread

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BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants further restrictions on public and private gatherings, as the spread of the coronavirus is easing too slowly despite a partial lockdown since early November.

People from one household should only meet publicly with a maximum of two people from another home, down from a previous limit of 10 people from two households, according to draft proposals obtained by Bloomberg.

The proposals, which Dr Merkel will present to Germany’s 16 regional premiers later Monday, include making face masks mandatory in all schools and for all age groups and urge citizens to avoid private parties until Christmas.

People over 65 and at-risk individuals would get 15 FFP2 face masks to give them extra protection during the winter, and the government also plans to get immunisation centres ready to operate at short notice from Dec 15.

After declining significantly through July, the number of cases began ticking up again across Europe in early August, spread by travellers returning from vacation and failure to observe distancing and hygiene rules.

Germany has far fewer cases and deaths than nations like Britain, France and Italy, but the government has warned that rapidly-filling hospitals are threatening to overload the health system.

Infections have surged by about 50 per cent since the end of October to more than 800,000, compared with almost 2 million in France, and the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has shot up by 70 per cent.

Dr Merkel last week opened the door to extending the monthlong, partial lockdown introduced Nov. 2 into December, and at the weekend again warned the nation about difficult winter months ahead. Her economy minister, Mr Peter Altmaier, predicted that Germany will have to live with “considerable restrictions” for at least the next four to five months.

Dr Merkel will hold further talks with regional leaders on Nov 23 to decide on their strategy from December onwards, according to the draft proposals for Monday’s meeting.

Bavaria Premier Markus Soeder said on Monday that the current shutdown – designed to limit social contact by closing bars and restaurants, while keeping most businesses operating – is showing “first signs of success.”

However, he said the spread of the disease at schools needs to be addressed and it’s vital to further reduce social contact.

“It makes sense to keep going until we see a real effect and implement the measures that are successful,” Mr Soeder said in an interview with ZDF television. If the restrictions are extended into December, more financial aid will have to be provided to sectors affected by the measures, he said.

For the time being, Germany’s strategy to contain the virus is less severe than in countries like Austria, where the government will shut schools, most stores, and services such as hairdressers starting on Tuesday.

While the rapid increase in new cases in Germany has slowed slightly, levels are still too high, Dr Merkel said last week. In the past seven days, daily infections have risen at 17,189 on average, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This is down from 18,652 during the previous seven days.

Dr Merkel has repeatedly urged Germans to abide by hygiene and distancing rules so that healthcare services don’t collapse, calling the crisis the biggest test since World War II.

The number of patients being treated for the virus in intensive care facilities is at a record 3,394, according to the DIVI register of German ICU capacity. At the beginning of October, there were less than 400 Covid-19 cases in German ICUs.

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