UK Pubs Urge Timeline To Reopen From Lockdown

The front page of the Evening Standard newspaper leads with the story that the government is contemplating making it compulsory that all visitors to the UK will have to quarantine in a hotel, after arriving here, outside Victoria train station in central London on January 25, 2021. (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britain’s shuttered pubs urgently need the government to decide when they can reopen from coronavirus lockdown to help them survive, the British Beer and Pub Association said on Wednesday.

Pub beer sales slumped by 56 percent or £7.8 billion ($10.8 billion, 8.9 billion euros) last year on the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, which sparked a series of lockdowns, the industry body added in a statement.

“This is not sustainable for our sector. We cannot continue to hold out under these circumstances,” noted BBPA Chairman Philip Whitehead.

“We urge the government to provide clarity to our sector on when it can expect to fully reopen.”

Much of the UK re-entered lockdown in early January to curb a variant Covid-19 strain that was deemed more transmissible, with restrictions similar to initial curbs imposed in the second quarter of 2020 — when pub beer sales collapsed to almost zero.

However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to outline plans for lifting widespread restrictions in England on February 22, as vaccinations gather pace.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

The BBPA, which represents 20,000 drinking establishments across the UK, also published its own “recovery roadmap” on Tuesday which it said should be implemented after the vulnerable have been vaccinated.

“The roadmap states that post vaccination of the most vulnerable, pubs must reopen when non-essential retail and other parts of the hospitality sector reopen,” it said.

“It also says that mandatory trading restrictions — such as alcoholic drinks served only with a substantial meal, no mixed households and the 10 pm (2200 GMT) curfew — must be removed when pubs reopen in a timely way.”

Sales had collapsed in 2020 from the previous year, despite a third-quarter boost from lower taxation and the government’s temporary “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme.

“As a sector we have invested hundreds of millions in ensuring that we provide places for people to safely socialise in,” added Whitehead.

“When pubs reopened in July we did so safely and successfully to world leading standards.

“When pubs can reopen, the restrictions they face… must be removed. They simply destroy the ability to operate as viable businesses.”

France Imposes Border Controls In Scramble To Avoid Lockdown

(Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

New border controls went into force in France on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.

But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 120,000 As NCDC Confirms 1,633 New Infections

The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.

EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.

Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.

The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday, one million people in France had received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was “reasonably confident” France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date.

Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures, including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6:00 pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.

“We need the curfew to show results,” Veran said.

“In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.

England Launches Fines Crackdown On Lockdown-Breakers

Paramedics wheel a patient outside the Royal London Hospital in east London on January 21, 2021. – Britain’s coronavirus mortality rate has risen nearly 15 percent over the past week, as surging infection rates throughout December have now fed into increasing hospital admissions and deaths. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

 

Police in England will be able to issue bigger fines to those breaking coronavirus lockdown measures by partying, with penalties of up to £6,400 ($8,775, 7,200 euros), interior minister Priti Patel said Thursday.

The new fines regime, which comes into force next week, targets those attending house parties and other illegal gatherings, with penalties doubling for each offence.

People caught at parties of more than 15 will initially face £800 fines, and could then face a maximum of £6,400 for further breaches.

“The science is clear: such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health,” Patel said at a Downing Street press conference.

“We will not stand by while a small minority put others at risk.”

Current fines stand at £200, with police only able to hit the organisers of events comprising 30 or more people with the highest penalties of £10,000.

London’s Metropolitan Police said earlier this week it had issued more than 140 fines totalling £39,000 over two days.

READ ALSO: US Resumes WHO Support, Launches $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Plan

That included breaking up a 40-strong house party Friday in the east of the capital where attendees became hostile and three officers were injured.

The new crackdown comes with England weeks into its third national lockdown, with schools and non-essential shops closed for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the fresh stay-at-home order after the emergence of a more contagious virus variant and the easing of restrictions in some parts of the nation over Christmas.

Similar rules are in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where devolved governments have responsibility for health policy.

Leaders in Belfast on Thursday announced its lockdown will be extended for a further four weeks to March 5 as transmission rates decrease there slowly.

Across the UK, the number of new cases has fallen nearly a quarter over the past seven days, after weeks of surging infections.

The increased case counts through December and earlier this month have led to dramatic spikes in hospitalisations and fatalities, with record-breaking daily death tolls this week.

After announcing another 1,290 deaths Thursday, Britain’s total mortality count stood at 94,580, while cases surpassed 3.5 million.

Partial Lockdown Imposed On Beijing Over Covid-19 Outbreak

Medical workers wearing protective suits as a precaution against COVID-19 deliver a patient to the fever clinic at a hospital in Beijing on January 13, 2021. GREG BAKER / AFP

 

 

A partial lockdown was imposed on the Chinese capital Wednesday, with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving Beijing, after a handful of cases were detected.

Seven cases were reported in the city on Wednesday, including six in southern Daxing district.

All 1.6 million residents of Daxing must not leave Beijing unless they have received special permission from the authorities and tested negative for Covid-19 in the past three days, the district said.

Meetings of 50 or more people in the district have been banned, while “weddings should be postponed and funerals simplified,” the district government said.

It also ordered all kindergarten, primary and secondary students in the district to study at home.

Residents of five Daxing neighbourhoods where the cases were detected were ordered to remain indoors.

Daxing includes one of the city’s two international airports.

Pedestrians walk in the central business district (CBD) of Beijing on January 18, 2021.
WANG Zhao / AFP

 

 

China has largely brought the virus under control even as the rest of the world struggles with mounting deaths and overburdened hospitals.

But a spate of small, localised outbreaks has prompted Chinese officials to order mass testing, strict lockdowns and to prepare to move thousands into quarantine facilities to stamp out a resurgence.

China reported 103 new cases on Wednesday, including the seven in Beijing.

The outbreaks, including in neighbouring Hebei province, have put China on high alert for a potential wave of cases ahead of the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

Meanwhile, nearly three million people in northeastern Jilin province were placed under lockdown on Monday after a travelling salesman infected over a hundred people.

Heilongjiang, another northeastern province, has reprimanded 16 officials for “not doing their duty” to prevent recent clusters of cases in the province, the provincial Communist Party newspaper Heilongjiang Daily reported Wednesday.

Lebanon Enters Full Lockdown To Stem COVID-19 Uptick

ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

Lebanon went into a tight lockdown Thursday, with residents barred even from grocery shopping and forced to rely on food deliveries as the country battles to slow spiking novel coronavirus cases.

The new restrictions were only loosely respected in some areas of the country, however, reflecting deep mistrust of a political elite held responsible for a deepening economic crisis.

The lockdown, ordered after some hospitals started to run out of intensive care beds, includes a 24-hour curfew until January 25.

Non-essential workers are barred from leaving their homes, and supermarkets are only allowed to operate by delivery.

Those needing an emergency exemption — to see a doctor, say — can request one via a text message or by filling in a form online.

In the capital, roads were quieter than usual, while non-essential shops remained shuttered. Security forces stopped drivers at several checkpoints in the centre of the city.

Security forces said compliance with the new measures stood at 94 percent.

But in some areas, some people ventured out to buy groceries.

As the lockdown went into force, authorities announced Thursday that 41 people had died of the coronavirus over the previous 24 hours, with 5,196 new infections registered.

– Heart attacks –

Recent days have seen Lebanon hit record daily Covid-19 caseloads in one of the steepest increases in transmission worldwide.

In Geitawi Hospital in Beirut on Thursday, director Pierre Yared said the emergencies department was brimming over with more than 30 people suffering from Covid-19 the previous day.

“The ER was filled with corona patients, there were no other patients,” he said.

Cases skyrocketed after authorities loosened restrictions during the holiday season, allowing restaurants and night clubs to remain open until 3:00 am, despite warnings from health professionals.

A partial lockdown in place since January 7 has failed to halt the spread of the virus.

Firass Abiad, the prominent director of the main state hospital treating Covid patients, warned the latest lockdown must not fail.

“In the last 24 hours alone, four Covid positive patients presented in cardiac arrest to our emergency room,” he wrote on Twitter.

“One of them was a 19 years old patient. This is serious.”

The new measures came into effect after caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 late Wednesday, state media said.

The announcement on Monday raised fears of food shortages in impoverished and remote regions where deliveries are not readily available.

For several days, Lebanese have flooded supermarkets and chemists to stock up on supplies.

Some are worried the new restrictions will pile additional suffering on the country’s poorest.

– Political crisis –

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, was already grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades when the pandemic hit.

Previous lockdowns have forced businesses to close and deprived some, particularly informal day labourers, of income. Around half Lebanon’s population lives in poverty.

The World Bank Group on Tuesday approved a $246-million aid package to help 786,000 vulnerable Lebanese, but it is unclear when it will arrive.

Lebanon has recorded 237,132 cases since February last year, including 1,781 deaths.

Parliament is expected to convene Friday to examine a bill to allow the import and use of Covid-19 vaccines, which authorities have previously said will arrive in Lebanon by February.

Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.

The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut port last summer killed 200 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

A deeply divided political class has been unable to agree on a new cabinet to launch urgently needed reforms.

NIN Registration: What FG Will Do If There Is A Second Lockdown – Pantami

 

As millions of Nigerians struggle to enrol for the National Identification Number (NIN), the Federal Government has revealed the next step it will take should there be another lockdown.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, who featured as a guest on Politics Today, noted that the ministry would immediately convene a meeting.

He explained that the meeting, which would be attended by stakeholders such as the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and telecommunications operators, would review the situation.

READ ALSO: Amnesty International Asks FG To Drop Charges Against Sowore, Others

“If a second lockdown is enforced, then, the ministerial taskforce including NIMC, NCC, and all mobile network operators will come down and sit immediately and review.

“The task force meets usually within one week,” the minister said on the Channels Television political programme on Friday.

He added, “So, when there is a second lockdown, we are citizens, we must respect the Federal Government’s directives.

“When there is any announcement, we will come back to the drawing board immediately and review the process and see what we have achieved so far, and the challenges.”

A file photo of applicants at one of the NIMC offices in the country.

 

‘We Need Attitudinal Change’

The minister, however, did not specifically state if the enrolment exercise will be suspended as the ultimatum issued to telecommunications operators to disconnect Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs) without NIN draws near.

He insisted that it was not out of place for the government to take such action, coming at a time when the nation was experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Pantami, the Constitution provides that citizens should be captured not long after birth and Nigerians should be blamed for the present situation in the country.

He stated that before the government issued the directive for enrolment, the ministry had asked the people to ensure they comply with the COVID-19 protocols while at the NIMC offices.

“We are respecting the guidelines and we encourage our citizens to change their attitude; what we need is attitudinal change, laws cannot be implemented by themselves.

“We as citizens must be law-abiding and we must respect Federal Government’s laws and policies because they are for our own good,” the minister said.

COVID-19: FG May Consider Another Lockdown As Cases Continue To Rise

The deserted Abuja City Gate, on the second day of a 14-day lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Abuja, Nigeria on April 1, 2020. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun / Channels TV.

 

The Federal Government may consider the option of imposing a fresh lockdown on the country if the rising cases of COVID-19 infections recorded lately continue.

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu, stated this during the PTF briefing in Abuja, on Thursday.

“If these numbers continue to go up and we start having significant deaths, we will have no option. If we do not want to lock down, now is the time to make sure that we follow the non-pharmaceutical interventions,” Aliyu said urging Nigerians to take COVID-19 safety guidelines seriously.

The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha also at the briefing said the increase in the number of infections daily is worrying and calls for concern.

“The Presidential Task Force is very concerned about the increasing daily numbers that we are recording.

READ ALSO: Sowore’s Bail Application Suffers Temporary Setback

“On 6th of January 2021, we recorded 1,664 infections. This is yet another all-time high in Nigerian and we must all take full responsibility through compliance and vigilance,” the SGF said.

The Federal Government had in March 2020 locked down the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States for over five weeks as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic.

Austria Scraps Plan To Ease Lockdown After Testing Row

GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP.

 

Austria’s government on Monday effectively extended its third coronavirus lockdown, scrapping a proposal that would have allowed citizens to access some services if they took part in a mass-testing programme.

The country’s current lockdown is scheduled to run until January 24.

However, the government had proposed that those who tested negative in a nationwide, free Covid-19 mass-testing programme be allowed to visit shops, event venues, restaurants, cafes and bars from January 18.

But the plan would have obliged those who did not participate to stay at home for a week longer.

Opposition parties harshly criticised the scheme, questioning the point of one-off tests and asking how the restrictions could be enforced.

After a high volume of complaints overwhelmed the parliament website, all three opposition parties on Sunday announced that they would block the necessary legislation in the upper chamber.

READ ALSO: EU Defends Its Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out

“That means that exiting lockdown early through getting a test won’t be possible,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Monday morning.

Shops, restaurants and other services will therefore remain closed until January 24.

As long as the number of new infections per day doesn’t come below 1,000, “there’s no point discussing relaxation measures”, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, head of the largest opposition Social Democrat (SPOe) party, said Sunday.

Currently, around 1,500 residents of the small, Alpine nation are testing positive per day.

The current, third lockdown came into effect on December 26, just twenty days after the previous lockdown ended.

Austria was generally seen to have acted swiftly during the first wave of the pandemic, escaping its worst effects, but critics have accused the government of failing to adequately prepare for the second wave.

The country’s per capita infection rates climbed to among the highest in the world in late November, outbreaks in elderly care facilities emerging as a particular problem in recent weeks.

COVID-19: Wike To Impose Fresh Lockdown On Rivers

 

The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, says he will impose a fresh lockdown in the state in January to prevent a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Wike who was addressing a congregation on Sunday in Ikwerre, said the decision was a result of the non-challant attitude of some residents to the COVID-19 protocols.

The governor also threatened to shut down all churches in the state if worshippers refuse to wear face masks and comply with other COVID-19 protocols.

See his full statement below.

GOV WIKE TO IMPOSE STRINGENT MEASURES TO CURB SPREAD OF COVID-19

Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, says he will re-impose lockdown beginning from January as the number of coronavirus cases surge in the State.

He gave a hint of the imminent second phase of lockdown amid rising cases of COVID-19 during the thanksgiving church service in celebration of the 90th birthday of Mrs. Priscilla Nwanediye Mark, at the St. Martin’s Anglican Church, Omagwa in Ikwerre Local Government on Sunday.

Governor Wike, lamented as worrisome the refusal of most churches and markets in the State to enforce compulsory wearing of face mask in adherence to COVID-19 protocol.

He said the State government had initially relaxed the restriction on the number of persons who worship in churches, but with second wave of COVID-19, he will by this week announce new stringent measures to check the spread of COVID-19 cases in the State, “When you go to some churches, they don’t wear mask. Go to market, they don’t wear mask.

They believe COVID is not real. It’s not real because it has not happened to you; nobody had died whom you know. When somebody has died and the person was close to you, you will know that COVID is real.

“So, it is real and I want to appeal to all of you that we have to be more strict now because the second wave is more dangerous than the first wave. It’s very, very dangerous. I know how many people we have lost since the second wave started.”

Governor Wike implored the Bishop of Diocese of Ikwerre to prevail on members of all the churches under his jurisdiction to always wear their face mask.

“If you don’t comply, I have no choice, but to shut down the churches; Pentecostal, Catholic, Anglican.

I have no choice, because when you have it, who spends the money? It is the state that treats. So, we need to use the money for some other things, but not for this. Let us discipline ourselves and know that COVID is real. Let nobody tell you that there is nothing like COVID. It’s real.”

The governor urged Peoples Democratic Party leaders in Ikwerre Local government area to use Mrs Mark’s 90th birthday to work in unison for the development to the area.

He also used the occasion to extol the chairman of Ikwerre local government, Samuel Nwanosike for his commitment to the development of the area.

Governor Wike, however, urged Nwanosike to respect party leaders and ensure that all stakeholders work in unison to move the State forward.

The governor who was accompanied by the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, announced a donation of N50 million to the church.

Delivering a sermon titled “Thanking God for His Mercy” the Bishop, Diocese of Ikwerre, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Right Reverend Blessing Enyindah, stressed the need for people to always acknowledge God’s mercies in their lives.

Bishop Enyindah who observed that this is an era were people lived below the lifespan of 50 years, said it was the mercy of God that made Mrs. Priscilla Mark attain 90 years.

Israel Enters Third Nationwide Lockdown

This picture taken on December 24, 2020 from a control room shows medical workers standing inside a COVID-19 coronavirus isolation ward at the Ziv Medical Centre in the city of Safed in northern Israel. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

 

Israel was set Sunday to begin its third coronavirus lockdown, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced optimism that a “world record” vaccination drive will restore a degree of normality within weeks.

After a sharp rebound in detected infections, Netanyahu’s government announced three days ago that it would re-impose the strict measures that had previously helped limit transmission.

From 5:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, most people will be forced to stay within 1,000 metres of their home.

There are a range of exceptions, including seeking medical care, attending legal proceedings or exercising.

A key difference in Israel’s third lockdown compared to previous versions relates to schools, with more students able to attend classes.

Instead of near total closures, Israel is keeping schools open for children under six, as well as grades one to four and teenagers finishing secondary school in grades 11 and 12.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: EU Begins Vaccinations To End Pandemic

Israel’s National Council for the Child criticised the decision to close grades five through 10.

“The decision to ignore this age bracket means the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children, only because in theory they can be left at home alone while (their parents) go to work,” NCC head Vered Windman was quoted as saying by the Ma’ariv newspaper.

“But this is precisely the age group that is at a higher risk of developing emotional difficulties, fears and isolation.”

– ‘World record’ –

Speaking late Saturday following Shabbat, Netanyahu said Israel was hoping to vaccinate a quarter of its population, or roughly 2.25 million people, against coronavirus within a month.

He said he had spoken with the heads of the companies making vaccines who had voiced confidence that the requisite number of doses could be provided.

Israel’s vaccination targets are of “such a magnitude (they amount to) a world record” pace, the prime minister said.

Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive a Covid-19 jab on December 19, ahead of the launch last week of a nationwide innoculation programme.

The premier has political incentives to push an accelerated vaccination campaign.

The fraught coalition government that he formed in May with his former election rival and current defence minister, Benny Gantz, collapsed last week, triggering elections in March — Israel’s fourth vote in two years.

Netanyahu’s election campaign could be hindered by the start of a more intensified phase of his long-awaited corruption trial and the departure of his staunch ally US President Donald Trump from the White House.

Political analysts have said that Netanyahu is hoping a rapid vaccination drive will put Israel’s pandemic-wracked economy on a path to recovery before election day.

COVID-19: Tweet By Buhari’s Aide Sparks Lockdown Fears, Mixed Reactions

A combination of photos showing President Muhammadu Buhari and his aide, Bashir Ahmad.

 

Amid fears of a new strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, a tweet by Mr Bashir Ahmad has sparked mixed reactions on Twitter.

Ahmad, the Personal Assistant on New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, posted the tweet on Monday via his verified Twitter handle.

Although he did not post any text that suggests a second lockdown, his tweet contains a locked yellow padlock, a downward arrow in a blue box, and the figure ‘2.0’.

As some of the Twitter users warn the government against the negative effects of another lockdown, others see it as a welcome development while some give hilarious reactions.

READ ALSO: National Assembly Passes 2021 Budget, Raises It By N505bn

The tweet by Ahmad, which has triggered fears of a second phase of lockdown, comes ahead of the scheduled submission of the final report of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to President Buhari.

In the last couple of days, Nigeria saw its highest single-day COVID-19 cases, figures that are higher than those reported in the early months of the outbreak in the country.

 

The increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the country have forced authorities in various states to reactivate the measures put in place to curb the spread of the disease.

These include the closure of schools, compulsory wearing of facemasks in public spaces, and the restriction of crowds in social and religious gatherings.

Some top officials of the Federal Government, governors, and military officers, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, have gone into isolation recently.

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, chaired by Mustapha, was set up by President Buhari on March 9, barely two weeks after Nigeria recorded its first case of the disease.

He directed the task force to coordinate and oversee the nation’s multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.

The PTF has various mandates such as to provide overall policy direction, guidance, and continuous support to the National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and enable the delivery of national and state-level outbreak control priorities, among others.

It has Dr Sani Aliyu as the national coordinator and the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, and some ministers as members.

See the reactions to Bashir Ahmad’s tweet below:

Germany Sees Record Death Toll On First Day Of New Lockdown

A sick woman is accompanied by medical stuff to a shelter as people leave their home area in the Gallus district in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, during an evacuation on early morning of December 6, 2020. Photo by Armando BABANI / AFP

 

Germany reported a record number of deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, the first day of a new partial lockdown to try to halt a surge in infections.

A total of 952 people died in the previous 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre.

It said 27,728 new coronavirus cases were registered, a figure close to the daily record of nearly 30,000 infections reported on Friday.

Saxony, a region with some of Germany’s highest rates of infection, was not included in Tuesday’s figures, potentially boosting the latest numbers.

Some 83 percent of critical care beds in hospitals were occupied on Wednesday, the country’s intensive care and emergency medicine association (DIVI) said.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

The new restrictions, including closures of schools and non-essential shops, demonstrate the seriousness of the situation in Europe’s largest economy, as measures are ramped up in the run-up to Christmas — as elsewhere in Europe.

In Britain, London’s pubs, restaurants and hotels have been forced to close for the third time this year; Denmark has moved to a partial lockdown for the whole country; and in the Netherlands, a five-week lockdown came into effect on Tuesday.

In France, where bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been closed since the end of October, the curfew now runs from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

– ‘We’re staying at home’ –

Germany coped relatively well with the first wave in the spring but has been unable to stop the spread of a resurgent virus in recent months.

The latest restrictions will apply until at least January 10, with companies also urged to allow employees to work from home or to offer extended company holidays.

Authorities want to “implement the principle of ‘we’re staying at home'”, according to the policy paper agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state premiers.

Social contacts will have to remain restricted over the Christmas period from December 24 to 26, when meetings will only be possible between close family members.

New Year’s Eve festivities will also be curtailed, with the sale of fireworks and gatherings banned.

– Merkel worried –

Ahead of the closure of most retail stores until next year, Germans rushed to queue up for last-chance Christmas shopping.

“I hope that the shopping on Monday and Tuesday will not penalise us,” said Angela Merkel at a meeting with her conservative parliamentary group.

“The curve (of infections) is very bad,” she said, participants told AFP.

“The vaccine will help us”, but the evolution of the pandemic remains unpredictable, she added.

Her government has pressured the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ahead of Christmas.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday that he hoped vaccinations would begin before the end of the year in Germany.

“We will be able to return gradually to normal from the summer onwards,” Spahn told broadcaster RTL on Wednesday.

But the chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, expected containment measures to continue “at least until Easter”.

“Even if vaccinations start earlier than expected, the effect will only be gradual,” he told the Funke media group.