Germany enters stricter lockdown as coronavirus deaths hit new high

A view of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as Germany tightens lockdown on Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Germany hit a new record level of coronavirus deaths as it entered a harder lockdown Wednesday, closing shops and schools to try to bring down stubbornly high new cases.

The country recorded 179.8 deaths of new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago by the Robert Koch Institute, the country's disease control center.

It also blew past its previous daily total, with Germany's 16 states reporting 952 people had died of the virus, the agency said. That was far greater than the previous daily record set Friday of 598 deaths, although included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony, which did not report Tuesday. It brought the country's overall pandemic death toll to 23,427.

Faced with exponentially increasing cases in October, Germany implemented a “lockdown light” at the start of November, which closed bars and restaurants but left shops open. The measures succeeded in leveling off the numbers of new daily infections but didn't bring them down, prompting the new stricter restrictions.

In addition to closing shops and moving children to remote learning for the few days before the Christmas holidays, private gatherings are being limited to two households with a maximum of five people, among other things.

The measures are expected to be in place until at least Jan. 10 and enjoy wide support, with the latest polls showing more than 80% of Germans approve of the lockdown restrictions or think they should be stricter.

Germany was widely praised for slowing the spread of its outbreak in the spring, but as people grew lax with distancing and mask rules over the summer the numbers of cases started to climb again.

While daily new cases peaked at about 6,000 in March, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 new cases reported Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute.

The number of new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days hit a record high of 179.8, the agency reported.

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German officials have pressed the European Union's regulatory agency hard to speed up its approval of a coronavirus vaccine, and the European Medicines Agency has scheduled a meeting on that for Monday. With vaccinations expected to start before year's end, German officials have urged people to stay patient and respect the regulations over the holidays.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said Germany was ready to start rolling out the vaccine and could begin vaccinations within two to four days of European approval.

“By summer we'll be able to return to normal, step by step,” he said on RTL television Wednesday.

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