Merkel hints at fresh lockdown over Christmas

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Washington, Monday

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday urged German regions with high coronavirus rates to tighten social contact restrictions before Christmas as the country struggled to slow a second wave of infections.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters the government welcomed a move by Bavaria on Sunday to step up its shutdown rules in the light of still climbing outbreak numbers in hotspots.

“These are worrisome days,” Seibert said, noting that infections rates “are not consistently going down” but rather rising in some areas and that Germany was “far from turning the corner”. 

The eastern state of Saxony, coping with its own infections spike, followed suit with an announcement it would meet Tuesday to agree stricter rules. 

Seibert noted that Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers had “specifically agreed” that regional governments could go beyond national guidelines if conditions demanded it.

Although they are not scheduled to have another meeting in that format to assess country-wide rules until January 4, Seibert said such a meeting was possible again “at any time” in the period before Christmas if deemed necessary.

Under a so-called “lockdown light”, German cultural and sporting facilities as well as restaurants and bars have been shut since early November, with public gatherings limited but schools and shops remaining open.

Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to extend the partial shutdown until January 10, while still allowing certain exceptions for gatherings at Christmas and New Year.

Meanwhile, US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named the team tasked with turning around the United States’ floundering efforts to quell the Covid-19 pandemic, nominating Xavier Becerra as his secretary of health.

When Biden takes office on January 20, his health team will be immediately responsible for rolling out a historic immunization drive -- set to launch later this month in a bid to gain control of a pandemic that has killed 280,000 people in the country.

Along with California attorney general Becerra, Biden named Vivek Murthy as surgeon general -- a role he previously held under Barack Obama -- and Harvard infectious disease expert Rochelle Walensky as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced,” Biden said. - AFP

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