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Merkel urges tougher curbs as virus deaths soar

Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters-Yonhap)
Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters-Yonhap)

BERLIN (AFP) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday demanded tougher curbs to bring down coronavirus infections, as the German death toll reached a daily record of nearly 600 people.

Germany has ordered far less stringent shutdown rules than other major European nations after coming through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed.

But Europe's biggest economy has been severely hit by a second wave with daily new infections more than three times that of the peak in the spring.

Daily death tolls have been climbing, reaching a record of 590 on Wednesday.

Merkel said she believed guidelines agreed two weeks ago with the leaders of Germany's 16 states that kept shops open but banned indoor dining were no longer enough.

"When mulled wine stands are being built, when waffle stands are being built, that's not compatible with what we had agreed of only takeaways for food and drinks," she told parliament.

"I am really sorry... but if we're paying the price of death tolls at 590 people daily then that's, in my view, not acceptable."

Pointing to recommendations published on Tuesday by scientists of the Leopoldina Academy, Merkel said she agreed that it was right to close shops and limit social gatherings.

The scientists had called for all shops other than those selling essential items to close between Christmas Eve and January 10 at the earliest. Employees should also work from home when possible while schools are also kept shut.

The idea is to use the festive period to keep people at home and break the chain of infections.

Urging Germans to heed the experts' call, Merkel said people could not pick and choose when to accept the science.

"Because the numbers are what they are, we must do something about them," she added.

With an eye on Christmas when families are expected to gather, Merkel said people have a responsibility to significantly reduce social contact.

"If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it ends up being the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we'd really have failed," she said.

Three times too high

Merkel's government has repeatedly said that numbers need to be brought down to 50 per 100,000 people but the rate is currently 149 per 100,000.

State leaders had agreed a plan to allow social contact restrictions to be eased over Christmas and New Year -- allowing up to 10 adults to meet rather than just five.

However, harder-hit states including Berlin and Thuringia have opted to keep the tougher rules.

Saxony, meanwhile, has ordered schools, kindergartens and most shops to close from Monday after becoming the country's virus hotspot.
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